Archive for the 'Energy Policy' Category

Dec 29 2008

An open letter to President-Elect Barack Obama

Dear President-Elect Obama,

As you are now working hard to build your new administration cabinet and team I would ask that you reflect on the fact that the hopes of millions of Americans are focused on you and your call for change in Washington D.C. The past eight years have been extremely rough on the country as a whole. We are now involved in two wars, we have watched our civil liberties erode, we have seen a government which has been mishandled and mislead, and we have now watched our value and our fortunes disappear in a puff of smoke in front of us. Many Americans have lost their retirement savings and many have lost their homes. In turn, we watch as the our government throws billions of dollars to banks who are one of the root causes of the current economic morass as well as to automobile manufacturers who have largely ignored the market conditions and refused, at every turn, to change their business models to meet the demands of the new century.

Many Americans are facing the possibility that this will be their last Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa in their homes. The new year brings with it the reality that Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae and Countrywide will allow their holiday moratoriums on foreclosure proceedings to expire and they will move forward in foreclosing on houses. Many Americans are facing the possibility that this may be the final few weeks of work for them as their employers downsize, factories close, or businesses shutter completely due to the economic downturn now facing the country. Many Americans are wondering what will become of them, their families, and their futures.

We have witnessed how the country has been led down a path of carefree spending as though the piper need never be paid, how our leaders in the White House and in Congress have resolutely refused to acknowledge that the energy infrastructure of yesteryear is inadequate and harmful for the world of tomorrow, and how our stature in the world has diminished greatly because we have failed to lead.

The world we face today is dramatically different that that faced by President Clinton in 1993 when he entered office and by President Bush when he entered office in 2001. We need leadership now in the same way that President Roosevelt led in 1932 and 1936. We truly need a new “New Deal” — one where we, as Americans, can build a better America not just for ourselves but for our children, and for generations to come. We are not asking for handouts without being willing to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. We are not asking for giveaways without a willingness to break a sweat on our brows. We are not asking for you to solve our problems without our input. We are simply asking for you to set a good example and to lead thoughtfully and responsibly.

What do we mean by a good example? Be frugal in what you do — show America that you feel her pain. Show Americans that you understand their plight. Do not be execessive in what you spend but buy what you need. Show Americans that you are saving money, that you are investing in America — in the right places — green energy projects, schools, infrastructure for the 21st century. Help us build a new economy out of the ashes of the old one so that when historians look back they will say that this was the turning point when America became a better place — a beacon, once again, for the world to see, to learn from, and to follow.

Thank You,
Ido Dubrawsky

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Nov 16 2008

Enough Already!

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

Once again President Bush has shown us just how pathetic and partisan he really is. Here it is, September, very little time left in this congress to get much of anything done and the House of Representatives passes an energy bill that has bipartisan support. It includes a little of everything: it allows for offshore drilling, includes incentives for renewable energy, requires oil companies to drill for oil on lands that they already lease from the government, and requires the government to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). And what does President Bush and the White House call it? “A waste of time” that’s what.

President Bush doesn’t like it because allows drilling between 50 and 100 miles offshore…not the 3 mile limit that he and the Republicans prefer. President Bush doesn’t like it because it pays for itself through a repeal of some of the tax cuts that the energy bill from 2005 gives to the oil industry. President Bush doesn’t like it because it doesn’t give states an incentive to allow for drilling off their coasts. In general President Bush doesn’t like this bill because it doesn’t give his buddies in the oil industry (who are raking in money hand over fist while oil is high) a free reign to do whatever they want, wherever they want without any consequences.

Instead of thinking…”Gee…this is about the best we’re going to get with this Congress” he would rather spit on it and play the “Blame the Democrats” game by saying that the bill was laced with “poison pills” and that House Democrats “‘lack of seriousness about expanding access to the vast domestic energy resources’ off U.S. coasts” (CNN, “Administration rips Democrats’ energy bill as waste of time“,, September 17, 2008 ). This has nothing to do with actually trying to break the gridlock and the deadlock in Washington politics. This is just stupidity on the part of a President who has managed to screw up America more than it ever has been in the past. I notice how people in my community get all worked up about how “bad Clinton was”…well, at least under Clinton we had budget surpluses, we were growing the economy, we were respected in the world community, and we were paying down the national debt. Bush has managed to erase all of that and more!. We borrow from the Chinese to pay the Saudis for their oil, we have budget deficits galore, the national debt has grown tremendously, we are not respected in the world, we are in the middle of war that we (and the rest of the world) were lied to in order to gain support, and our civil rights are being eroded daily.

It’s time that President Bush stop blockading any effort to achieve a bipartisan move forward on the energy issue and support what he can get rather than stonewall based on ideology and sheer stupidity. If he wants to save any part of his legacy (whatever there may be left) then he needs to get his head out of the ground and do something positive.

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Aug 28 2008

We Can Solve It!

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

It’s astounding to realize that the oil companies have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $427 million dollars on lobbying in the first half of 2008. Let’s see what that got them…a call from the Republicans to “Drill Here! Drill Now!” with no regard for the environment. We need to solve our addiction to oil and the quickly developing climate crisis in other ways. But don’t expect John McCain or the Republicans to jump on board. The following video comes from the Alliance for Climate Protection and drives the point home — We CAN solve it!

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Aug 18 2008

So Why Drill Offshore?

Published by under Energy Policy

So John McCain is going around the country, jumping up and down chanting the Republican party’s mantra “Drill Here! Drill Now!” at every opportunity. Barack Obama, while not a proponent of offshore oil drilling, has taken a more cautious approach — he admits that we may have to accept some offshore oil drilling as a short term solution for higher energy prices until we can get other renewable technologies online. Obama feels that if we can drill safely and effectively and provide some relief to the oil price pressure then it’s worth the risk. The problem John McCain is way off base and Barack Obama is also not on the mark but at least he’s more honest.

The Energy Department’s own Energy Information Administration reported in their Annual Energy Overview for 2007 that

The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017. (p59)

(Energy Information Administration,”Annual Energy Outlook 2007“, Department of Energy, DOE-EIA0383(2007), February 2007)

What’s worse is that the impact to the cost of crude oil on the market would be minimal at best

Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant. (p59)

(Energy Information Administration,”Annual Energy Outlook 2007“, Department of Energy, DOE-EIA0383(2007), February 2007)

But don’t tell President Bush and the Republicans in Congress. This is a minor detail in their plan. The fact is that this administration and apparently Senators McCain and Obama choose to ignore the truth when its inconvenient. The Bush administration has a long history of this behavior — everything from the situation in Iraq to global warming. And Senator McCain is falling lockstep behind the administration and the party in this regard as well which is a shame since he, in the past, was quite the maverick and bucked a lot of Republican trends. However, what I find most distressing is that Senator Obama also has bought into this mentality. Why he chose to endorse even limited offshore oil drilling is beyond me but probably goes down to the fact that he wants to defuse Senator McCain’s bogus attacks against him on this issue.

The fact is that offshore oil drilling will not bring us any relief from high crude oil prices. The only thing that will reverse that trend in the near term future is conservation, efficiency improvements and finally the transition of our energy supplies from a fossil fuel base to renewable energy supplies. I’m not saying that this is going to be easy…it’s not. And anyone who says it can be done easily is not being honest by any shade of the imagination. Change at this level takes time and effort. But it can be done.

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Aug 18 2008

What John McCain Doesn't Want You to Know

Published by under Energy Policy

In Sturgis, SD last week John McCain addressed attendees of the annual motorcycle rally there by proclaiming

“We’re not going to pay $4 dollars a gallon for gas (when I am president) because we are going to drill offshore and we are going to drill now. We are doing to drill here and we are going to drill now,”

(Oinounou, Mosheh, “McCain rallies bikers at Sturgis“, Fox News, August 4th 2008 )

How amazing. “Drill here. Drill now!” The mantra of the Republican party that they claim will solve our energy crisis. How deceitful of Senator McCain. But wait…it gets better. He then tells the rally attendees

“My opponent doesn’t want to drill, he doesn’t want nuclear power. He wants to inflate your tires.”

(Oinounou, Mosheh, “McCain rallies bikers at Sturgis“, Fox News, August 4th 2008 )

In both of the above points McCain is a liar…or at the least completely misleading. Barack Obama’s energy plan includes nuclear energy as a part of his overall plan and notes that “Nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of our noncarbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option.” (“Barack Obama : New Energy for America“, 2008, found at Senator Obama acknowledges that nuclear power generation is something we will need for a long time in order to meet our climate goals. John McCain’s proclamation that “he [Obama] doesn’t want nuclear power” is a ball-faced lie and Mr. McCain better own up to it. As for the “My opponent doesn’t want to drill” argument — that’s patently false. On August 1st 2008 Barack Obama told the Palm Beach Post during a trip to Florida

“My interest is in making sure we’ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices,…If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage — I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done,”

(Whitesides, John, “Obama says would consider limited offshore drilling“, Reuters, August 1, 2008 )

Just because Senator Obama is not in favor of the rape and pillage style offshore oil drilling that Senator McCain and his Republican cohorts want doesn’t mean that he’s opposed to offshore drilling. But it has to be done with consideration and forethought…something that appears to be outside of John McCains capabilities. In addition, “Drill here! Drill now!” will absolutely, positively not affect gas prices in the immediate or near-term future — unless you consider “near term” as being around a decade. That’s completely misleading and shows what a low impression Republicans and John McCain have for the voter’s intelligence. In fact it’s downright insulting.

But let’s move on. John McCain then told the attendees of the motorcycle rally

“Is there anyone that is tired of paying…four dollars a gallon for gasoline. Is there anyone that is sick and tired of it? Is there anyone that wants to become energy independent?” McCain said. “Well I am telling you right now we are sending 700 billion dollars (abroad) and your Congress just went on vacation for five weeks. Tell them to come back and get to work.”

(Oinounou, Mosheh, “McCain rallies bikers at Sturgis“, Fox News, August 4th 2008 )

Those are big words for Mr. Mcain — “come back and get to work.” As Tom Friedman noted in his latest op-ed piece in the New York Times:

It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill — S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.

Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.

Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.

(Friedman, Tom, “Eight Strikes and You’re Out“, The New York Times, August 13th 2008 )

In fact, John McCain has missed a lot of votes over the years. Now, to be fair, Senator Obama also the July 30th vote which is inexcusable…however, he did vote on three previous ocassions in favor of tax breaks for solar and wind energy.

Finally, as it turns out Senator McCain doesn’t work weekends. (Thanks to Bob Cesca and his Goddamn Awesome Blog! Go! for the links). So before Senator McCain gets up and tells a crowd patently misleading and false rhetoric he should check his facts. And, perhaps he should show up in the Senate and vote more often…Congress might get some legislation passed if he did.

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Aug 18 2008

Breaking the Oil Addiction

Published by under Energy Policy

Why can’t we? Tom Friedman’s latest op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times focused on what the Danish have accomplished as far as energy independence. It turns out that the Danish have managed to make themselves 100% energy independent. That’s right…the 1973 Arab oil embargo following the Yom Kippur War initiated by Syria and Egypt against Israel impacted Denmark’s economy hard. The impact was so hard that the Danish had to ban Sunday driving altogether!

What’s most interesting is the response of the Danes to that crisis. Rather than deciding that drilling for more oil domestically was the solution they turned to alternative, renwable energy as their solution. How did they do it. Well, according to Tom Friedman the

Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

(Friedman, Tom, “Flush with Energy“, The New York Times, August 10, 2008 )

The increased taxes pushed the Danes to be more energy efficient and to innovate in many ways. They recycle waste heat from coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water and they incinerate trash in central stations also to provide home heating (Friedman, Tom, “Flush with Energy“, The New York Times, August 10, 2008 ) The reshaping of their energy market with high taxes on fossil fuels and high energy efficiency standards has not stifled innovation in the private sector. Rather it has created jobs and industries. In the 1970s Denmark’s wind industry was non-existant. Today one-third of all manufactured terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark and over the past 10 years Denmark’s energy technology exports have tripled. (Friedman, Tom, “Flush with Energy“, The New York Times, August 10, 2008 ) Denmark’s minister for climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard notes that

“It is one of our fastest-growing export areas,” said Hedegaard. It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, “we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero.”

(Friedman, Tom, “Flush with Energy“, The New York Times, August 10, 2008 )

So here’s the bottom line. Denmark had fewer resources than we do now to make this transformation over the past 30 years. What’s stopping us from doing the same thing. Consider that in the short term we will be paying higher taxes for energy but in the long run we will be breaking the oil addiction that OPEC wants us to be on and we will stop channeling money into the coffers of people like Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez who would love nothing better than a world without a United States. Both John McCain and Barack Obama must be willing to spell out a visionary energy plan that will end this stranglehold that OPEC and the petrodictators hold over us. We are already seeing what Vladimir Putin and the Russians are now doing with their newly discovered wealth and power…they’re invading former Soviet republics with the intent of reconstructing a Greater Russia. Similarly with President Chavez and the Arab leaders of the middle east. Our only way to break this is by breaking the oil addication.

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Aug 08 2008

More Oil Does Not Equal Lower Gas Prices

Published by under Energy Policy

Paul Krugman of the New York Times sums up Republican Party politics well in his latest opinion piece. Now, I don’t always agree with Mr. Krugman on everything but on this one I find his insight excellent.

He describes the current Republican strategy with regards to the oil and energy crisis as “Know Nothing Politics” — which it most certainly is. The term “Know Nothing” originates from a political movement in the 1850s and originated with the fact that the Know Nothing party was a semi-secret organization and if a member was asked about its political activities he would reply “I know nothing.” (“Know Nothing“, Wikipedia, August 1, 2008 ) Today, however, the term “Know Nothing” has become a perjorative term suggesting that someone is both a nativist and ignorant. (“Know Nothing“, Wikipedia, August 1, 2008 )

As Krugman notes in his editorial, the Republican Party has come to stand for stupid politics — especially in the case of the energy debate. The Republican Party leadership and politicians appear to have adopted the concept that simple, brute-force instant gratification answers are the solution to every problem. (Krugman, Paul, “Know Nothing Politics“, The New York Times, August 7, 2008 ) In this case the solution to high oil prices — drilling offshore for more oil which will result in immediate reductions in gasoline prices at the pump. Some Republicans actually go so far as to claim credit for the recent drop in oil prices coming down from a high of around $147 per barrel to around $120 per barrel today. As Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) recently claimed: “The market is responding to the fact that we are here talking,” (Krugman, Paul, “Know Nothing Politics“, The New York Times, August 7, 2008 )

Of course the studies and analyses from the Department of Energy which note that it would take years for any oil extracted from an offshore oil field to hit the open market and even the impact that oil would make on the price of crude is “insignificant” mean nothing to Rep. Shadegg or others like him.
Rather than look at the energy crisis as more complex the Republican’s in Congress and this Administration have adopted the concept of “Drill Here! Drill Now” without acknowledging the fact that oil field development takes years and we have no idea whether we will find sufficient oil in those fields to satiate our needs. We need to accept that oil is the fuel of the past and we have to move forward, diversify our energy production, look towards cleaner technologies as well as renewable energy sources for our future. On top of that, if we get off the oil addiction that OPEC wants us to be on we will remove a huge source of income for many “petro-dictators” as columnist Tom Friedman describes them.

What’s sad is that this strategy may actually work. The average voter wants to know what’s going to solve their problem today. People naturally want simple solutions — even to complex problems. And it appears that the Republicans in Congress, this administration and Senator McCain have embraced “Know-Nothing” politics as the answer. It’s a shame that Senator McCain has taken to lowering his standards for discourse down to simple rhetoric…I have a great deal of admiration for him as a maverick and a non-conformist Republican. But to adopt the methods and tactics of President Bush and to chant the mantra of “Drill Here! Drill Now!” without admitting that we are not addressing the core of the problem in a intelligent, thoughtful manner, he has really done himself and American politics a disservice. In the end it may get him the White House…but it will not get him a Republican congress. We may end up in the same partisan situation that we are in now for another two years. And we definitely don’t need more of that.

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Aug 05 2008

Solar Power Without The Sun

Published by under Energy Policy

Two of the most difficult issues with solar power are generating power when there is little or no sun and storing the energy generated by solar panels for later use. Traditionally batteries have been used to store electricity generated by solar panels for later use when it’s dark or on days when there isn’t sufficient sunlight to generate more electricity from solar panels. Now, however, two researchers at MIT have developed a novel and simple method to store the energy generated by solar panels as well as provide power when there is insufficient sunlight or it’s dark.

The method is based on the idea of photosynthesis. As explained here by Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT, the process utilizes a catalyst consisting of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode along with electricity generated by solar panels to take water and extract oxygen gas from it. Using another catalyst like platinum which can produce hydrogen gas from water the system mimics the water-splitting reaction which photosynthesis performs in plants. (Trafton, Anne, “‘Major discovery’ from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution“, MIT News, July 31, 2008 ) The process is simple, runs in neutral pH water (whereas most of the current fuel cells that use a similar technology require a very basic pH water environment), and works at room temperature.

This represents a giant leap for solar energy and could easily lead to a day in the near-future where the majority of homes in the world could not only generate their own electricity but efficiently store that energy for use during night time hours or during low sunlight periods. The sun shines enough light on the earth in 1 hour to provide for the entire planet’s energy needs for 1 year! With breakthrough’s like this the mainstreaming of solar power becomes much more feasible and affordable and much more efficient.

Kudos to Dr. Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow working in Dr. Nocera’s lab at MIT! Well done!

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Aug 05 2008

Obama's Chink in His New Energy Plan

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

I recently read Senator Obama’s new energy plan found here. It’s actually an excellent plan except for one little item that I find questionable — releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help alleviate the price at at the pump. In light of the “realities on the ground” (i.e. near $4 per gallon gas, oil above $120 per barrel and a slowing economy) Senator Obama has reversed his previous stance against tapping the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) and is now in favor of releasing “light” crude from the SPR now with the idea that it will lower prices at the pump and replacing it with “heavier” crude that is more suited to the nation’s long term needs.

The effect of the SPR release will be to reduce our consumption of oil out on the open or spot market. This will hopefully reduce the pricing pressures on oil and bring it down. But that’s only temporary. Remember the SPR is of finite size. Currently the SPR holds about 707.2 million barrels of both sweet and sour crude. This translates into roughly 33 days of supply at a consumption rate of 21 million barrels per day (“Strategic Petroleum Reserve“, Wikipedia, August 4, 2008, So long as we don’t exceed the supply in the SPR we would gain a respite from higher oil prices.

So here you’re probably asking “Ok, so what’s the point?” The point is this: if, according to Senator Obama’s plan, we release crude from the SPR, then the impact is minimal and short-lived. We would have a short-term respite from the high oil prices that will probably translate into lower gasoline prices. However, like the constant borrowing the government does now in order to pay our yearly budget deficit, we would be weaking our longer term strategic position as we will have drawn down on a strategic reserve that is meant for a rainy day. It’s like dipping into your 401k to pay bills now without realizing that the money you borrow today must be paid back tomorrow. We will eventually have to pay back the oil and put it back into the SPR (which will place pressure on the overall oil supply in the open market) — that’s a fact. And the price at which the government would buy the oil to put back into the SPR would probably be higher and the action of buying the oil to replenish the SPR would put some additional pressure on overall oil prices in the market. So, in the long term it really doesn’t seem to be a good idea — it’s kind of like the character Wimpy in the old Popeye cartoons who used to say things like “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

We want to lower prices at the pump. That’s fine, but we shouldn’t do it with gimmicks like releasing crude from the SPR which we will have to replenish tomorrow at probably higher prices. We need to focus on efforts like conservation, public transportation, getting more hybrid and electric vehicles on the road as well as other efforts which will have long lasting, long term results. Drawing from the SPR is a very, very short term relief which, on the whole, I don’t think has a lot of merit and is simply thrown into his new energy plan as a way to curry favor with the electorate. Remember the key thing to consider is that the reserve only contains 707 million barrels of oil and would be exhausted at our current consumption rate of 21 million barrels of oil per day within 33 days. This is insufficient time for a longer term plan to really take effect and have an impact. The only silver lining to this cloud is that the respite will not be enough to lull American consumers into thinking that the crisis is over.

This is clearly a political move to curry favor with voters — and I accept it as that but I don’t think it is worthwhile. Senator Obama is, unfortunately, willing to risk a strategic resource that is meant to be there only for the most dire of emergencies for political need. I understand his motivation in his desire to get consumers relief now, but to do it with a gimmick…that, to me, seems disingenuous. What voters need to realize is that once the SPR “tap” is shut off then oil (and gas) prices will go back to where they were…but we will not be the better for it.

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Aug 05 2008

More Wind Energy – A Beautiful Sight

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

Yesterday I went with my family up to Honesdale, PA to visit my son at camp. He left in late July to go to camp and visiting day was yesterday. On the way up to Honesdale I was driving on Route 6 East when I caught sight of about 2 dozen large windmills on the ridgeline turning — creating electricity. The last time I had seen something similar was when I was flying to San Jose, CA. from Austin in May 2007 for a business meeting and I looked down while we were over West Texas to see a long line of wind turbines also generating electricity. It’s such a remarkable sight to see that we are making progress in developing renewable energy generation, albeit slowly.

Windmill in Nebrasks

(Franco, Angel, picture from “In the Hills of Nebraska, Change Is on the Horizon“, The New York Times, August 4th 2008 )

This morning, while perusing the NY Times the lead article on their website was about a change of scenery in the plains of Nebraska. It turns out that the Nebraska plains around Ainsworth, Nebraska, has wonderful, constant, prevailing winds. These winds now power 36 wind turbines that send enough electricity to a national grid to power 19,000 homes (Barry, Dan, “In the Hills of Nebraska, Change Is on the Horizon“, The New York Times, August 4th 2008 ) These 36 are the beginning of a larger wind farm that will provide more power to the state of Nebraska than the 1% it currently does. Hopefully many more of these turbines and other renewable energy plants will generate more and more of our power soon. We need to promote and encourage more renewable energy generation both an industrial scale and local, residential scale if we are ever to break our reliance on fossil fuels and to impact our greenhouse gas generation and reverse global warming.

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