John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Myths of cheap, clean energy dying with each new day

Any way you count it, the days of cheap energy, clean energy are over. And if we are really honest with ourselves, such a thing never existed.

With damage assessments from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant still undermined, it is apparent that the world will take a long, cautious approach toward future development of nuclear power generation.

This comes less than a year after the grim reminder that oil under the Gulf or any other ocean floor also comes with a high price. Oil from the prolific sources in the Middle East comes with political entanglement and other risks whose high price is also yet undetermined.

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Lately people whose money comes from coal and the people whose money comes from natural gas have been trying to convince the American public that their energies offer a clean alternative to oil. The advertising is slick and convincing but fails to mention the residual costs.

The cost of so-called “clean coal” does not take into account the high price exacted when the fuel is taken from the ground and its byproducts are strewn over the landscape. The “new technology” touted by the natural gas industry as opening additional deposits for the extraction of that fuel damages underground the rock layers that protect our supply of groundwater.

Wind and solar power? The energy may be free, but the technology to collect it is expensive. Can also be fickle.

What then?

The solution will probably lie in some use of all sources, but the key to making anything work will be the realization that there is no cheap energy from any source. We operated for well over a century under that illusion and built western economy under the assumption of cheap energy. The sooner we elevate energy conservation to the level of priority with which we now conduct war, the closer we will come to preserving the standard of living that we’re now trying so desperately to hold on to.