Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Declaration of (Energy) Ideas

I'm attending the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the theme of which is A Declaration of Ideas. In Philadelphia, where our United States' representative Democracy was launched, there continue to be substantive discussions about how to help this great country, state by state.

In many meetings over these first two days, I have represented Montana on the Environment and Agriculture/Energy committees. Yesterday, the discussion was on renewable energy. The NCSL proposes policies formulated, debated, and passed by committees, and our representation to Congress is based upon those policies. In one engaging policy discussion, a representative from Alaska proposed changing the terminology in our NCSL National Energy policy from "renewable" to "clean".

Now, most everyone recognizes and defines renewable energy as that which is gained from a natural system, one that has no by-product or waste from generation, and from a force that is nearly constant, like wind or water. Wind power is generated when wind blows and turns a turbine, creating power for electricity. Hydro power is generated when water flows over a turbine, creating power for electricity. Renewable power is quite fundamentally different from fossil fuel or nuclear power, even those classed as "clean" energy, because fossil or other energies burn a fuel and emit a waste. That's just the process, and the definitions.

In yesterday's meeting, there were plenty of differing opinions about what types of power in which to invest. There are as many different opinions as there are legislators: one proposed that wind and hydro are not renewable. He said, "As soon as that water goes over the dam, that water's gone. As soon as that wind blows by a windmill, that wind is gone. It's gone."


That's just completely incorrect. Wind moves on; once it turns the rotors on one wind turbine, it can continue blowing and turn other rotors. Water moves on; once it flows over a turbine, it can flow on, downriver, and turn other turbines. In Montana, there are five dams on 13 miles of the Missouri River; that water serves many purposes, energy generation among them. Water and wind (and solar) are truly renewable sources of energy.

That contrasts with fossil fuel energies, which burn a fuel, like coal or natural gas, and emit a waste--carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, SoX and NoX gases, heavy metals like mercury, etc. There is intense discussion and research about carbon capture and sequestration, which means to capture carbon emissions from energy generation, compress and pipe the carbon dioxide and other minerals and elements, to dispose of them in deep saline aquifers or in strata underground. But there are concerns over what happens when waste products are introduced to rock, saline, groundwater; it's better to use a truly renewable energy rather than to use one that produces a waste we must then store or neutralize.

Another committee member proposed adding nuclear power, which is included in its own section of the National Energy policy, to the Renewable Energy section. That began the discussion about how we define renewable versus consumptive (my word) energy. Nuclear power most definitely has a waste product, and consumes a fuel; ask any uranium mine about fuel for nuclear power, or any Nevadan about how "renewable" nuclear power is, when their Yucca Mountain has been nominated by eight nuclear-power-producing states to store spent nuclear fuel.

The committee, after discussion and lively debate, did not add nuclear energy to the renewable energy section, and did not change the term "renewable" to "clean". This was just one policy--National Energy Policy--on one afternoon of one meeting. All substantive stuff, and I'm honored to represent Montana among such differing perspectives on so many aspects of our great land.

I know we'll be burning coal and oil and natural gas for some time to come, so let's find the best solutions for carbon capture and disposal. Let's insist that companies use best management practices (BMPs) for efficient energy production, and let's develop and use much more renewable energy to lessen the amount of fossil fuels--and their wastes--in our energy mix.

Regards from Philadelphia, everyone. Wish you were here. The cheesesteaks are fabulous.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bill Gates Wants Better US Education

The annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is convening this week in Philadelphia, and I'm a Montana delegate to the Environment committee and to the Agriculture/Energy committees. This morning, the week-long convention began with Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, delivering a keynote address on education.

The statistics on US students for science and math proficiency are lower than other nations', and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is donating to schools to try to improve students' performance and to encourage students to excel.

Gates said that teachers should be evaluated on student test scores and on number of students advancing (graduating classes or grades), and that the US must invest in education. He supported distance learning and online tutorials, videos, and information. He mentioned high-tech high schools, talented and engaging teachers that make learning fun, and investing time and energy into teaching; it's one of the best returns-on-investment we have.

more later. very tired.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Energy, Carbon, and Water

Last week, I attended a conference of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER), made up of northwestern states and Canadian provinces. Montana is a member of PNWER.

I participated in energy and environment sessions, and learned more details of treaties and water agreements between the US and Canada, a newly-signed carbon sequestration agreement between Saskatchewan and Montana, and water marketing. Our region--especially Montana and the provinces that border it on the north, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan--is actively engaged in important energy and environmental policies and initiatives.

During the last legislative session that adjourned just seventy-five days ago, I served as Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources committee, which considered many bills about water quality and quantity and the importance of keeping our waters and watersheds intact, protected, and available for responsible use. The committee also considered some bills about carbon capture and sequestration, the process of capturing carbon dioxide (and other) emissions from fossil fuel production and then finding deep saline aquifers or basalt deposits and piping or injecting the carbon dioxide deep underground, so that it doesn't further degrade the atmosphere. At the PNWER conference, I asked about the new agreement between Montana and Saskatchewan for Montana to dispose of (store) thousands of tons of carbon piped down from Canada. Who owns the minerals and elements (the carbon)? Who has the liability for the storage, or any ill effects, or leaks? The question of ownership is important. In Canada, mineral rights are retained by the national government, but in the US, property rights are retained almost always by the surface owner of the land. The problem--or complication--is that natural formations don't end at state or province or land parcel borders.

The House Natural Resources committee considered many bills proposed by the 2007-8 Fire Suppression Interim Committee, so while I was at the PNWER conference in Boise, I visited the InterAgency Fire Center. The center is built on 55 acres in Boise and combines all the federal agencies in a single spot for fire management.

Next week, I'll serve on national committees at another conference; the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). There is much to know about neighboring states' and provinces' policies and how they affect Montana.

In discussions on water policy and water pollution flowing from Canada to Montana, and the importance of considering watersheds, not necessarily state and provincial borders, I said at the PNWER conference, "Water doesn't honor borders. We need to consider watersheds as regions and develop our policies around the watershed." I'll work to do that.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This Red Car is Green

Today, the Bridger Mountain Pony Car Club held its 2009 Show-n-Shine car show, and I entered my smart car in the green/hybrid category.

The smart car took first place (a green trophy) in the category! Woo hoo!

My smart car gets 42 mpg, uses 100% recyclable synthetics for things like the dashboards and wheel housing covers, and has fewer components (for instance, the dashboard air system was reduced from twenty separate pieces to one single molded part).

The smart shared the category with a Ford Escape hybrid, as well as two solar bugs, made locally in Bozeman, Montana by Steve Titus. They're battery- and solar-driven; amazing! Steve says he runs his solar-powered car on a dollar a week!

Some photos from today's car show:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I've Gone Solar

Yesterday, the last details of my solar hot water system were completed! Now, there's a solar panel on the roof of the house, a solar hot water tank in the utility room...and lower natural gas consumption and cost at my house! Nice!

Some photos of the project: