On Individuals Spending Millions Installing Alternative Energy Sources.


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Last night I was watching the season premiere of The Green on the Sundance Channel and after it was over I was thinking about one of the stories that was in the episode. The entire episode was about the future of power and covered things like wind power, solar power and poop power. OK, not exactly poop power, but power from the methane gas from the manure from cows – it was pretty amazing really. However, that wasn’t the part that got me thinking…rather it was the wind turbine story.

That segment was about a guy and his family in Pennsylvania who mortgaged their house, maxed out credit cards, used up their retirement money and borrowed from friends – all to install a series of wind turbines on top of a ridge on his property. This was not for power just for him, but rather for many in his community. He felt it was something that he “had” to do because of the danger that our planet is facing from global warming. And while I am all for taking the bull by the horns, that is a HUGE investment of one’s own capital (not business money, personal money and loans) to put something in place that our government and/or private ventures should be doing more of. I am not saying it is a bad thing at all…I find it quite inspiring and amazing that someone would take that much of a personal risk to put in the turbines – he should be applauded. But I do find it upsetting that this is what is going to have to happen in order for us to go “off-grid” and get off of fossil fuels. Getting one’s self off-grid is one thing…but doing it as an experiment to try to sell power to your neighbors is another thing altogether. What if it had not worked?

At one point in the story, the narrator mentioned that Denmark gets 20% of it’s power from wind while the U.S. gets only 1%. ONE percent. We are a world leader in technology – but yet we won’t invest in wind and solar power for the benefit of everyone. However, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why – the oil, gas, and coal lobby runs strong and runs deep through our government. Just today it was announced on the news that the oil companies are asking for BIGGER tax breaks for “exploration”…even after the five biggest oil companies made $123.3 billion in profit last year. They want tax breaks to explore more places to dig for oil, not to get involved in alternative energies.

When will the investment in alternative energies move beyond a guy spending every penny he has and then borrowing even more into a solid, huge investment from the government or a multinational global giant? While I sincerely give this guy credit for bringing his dream to reality, it shouldn’t take this type of story to encourage companies to spend the money to start doing this on a giant scale. I know there are a few companies putting in solar power plants and wind farms, but we need more and we need it as soon as possible. Al Gore is spending $300 million dollars on ads and posters about global warming…I am thinking that the $300 million could have been put to much better use by installing wind farms across the country or putting solar panels on thousands and thousands of homes. I can appreciate a good ad campaign, but I think the time has come for action with these kinds of dollars coming available, not just words and feel good video clips.

If a few more $300 million chunks of money were thrown at alternative energy, guys like the one in Pennsylvania would not have to mortgage his house just to install wind turbines on his property.

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  1. I’m with you on this – money should be spent in actual implementation, not a constant barrage of advertising. Sure, educating the masses to think “green” is a noble cause, and one that should get some portion of available financial resources. However, where people can make the most impact is by actually starting to convert their own technologies, and those in their communities, into more efficient models. I say bravo to the Pennsylvania man – although the thought of spending that amount of money on anything scares the frugal side of me.

  2. That’s a very thought provoking post. It’s “funny”, however, that methane gas as a power source keeps getting dredged up as though it’s something new. People were driving methane powered cars at least 40 years ago in Europe. Why am I not driving a car, all these years later, powered by my DOG?? Seriously. It’s sickening to me that the US is not only STILL endorsing out-moded energy models (fossil fuels) but out-moded business models too (the real estate industry and car dealerships – both WW2 business models and BOTH in need of a major overhaul). Very wasteful but indicative of the corruption and self-serving special interests that exist in government, seemingly at all levels.

  3. This program sounds interesting, unfortunately I don’t have Sundance.

    As far as the Al Gore campaign goes, my thoughts are a little different than yours, Dave. Gore’s PR campaign may not produce immediate satisfaction with tangible (and relatively speedy) results like a 300 megawatt wind farm (about what $300 million would buy). But, just as you mentioned, the fossil fuel industry is a very powerful interest in this country, and they are not just active in DC, but they are mounting a formidable campaign themselves – a campaign that has sponsored presidential debates, superbowl commercials, funky science, climate-skeptic conferences, etc.

    I wish we didn’t have to waste money on TV commercials, newspaper ads, and blog ads to mobilize public support, but don’t we sort of have to ‘fight fire with fire?’ I would argue yes, at least until there is a real price put on carbon.

  4. I agree in principle – I mean, I know we need to spend money on advertising and spreading the news – and this is being done daily by websites, blogs, the media, magazines and of course, regular old advertising. But imagine the impact of “Al Gore and his friends have put together a 300 megawatt windfarm in rural Penn, which will power XYZ amount of homes free of charge to the homeowners” as a headline, instead of what people will see as “Al Gore is coming to talk about global warming again” ? No doubt he does some great work around the globe; I am not sure anyone does more for the cause. But with that kind of scratch, the tangible difference it could make would be absolutely astounding.

  5. 1. $300 million just isn’t what it used to be! 300 megawatts would be an outstanding yield, realistically we’re probably talking more like 275MW, which would power about 80,000 homes. And then what? How we decide who gets it? We are also then back where we started, except 80,000 homes get free power.

    2. I’m afraid we can’t shy away from the political here. We need to keep pressing for substantive policy changes that can only be achieved by mobilizing the public to be political. And maybe that’s what Gore does best. There are plenty of people out there with that kind of money underneath their mattresses who don’t have the political skills to do squat, but they can do all kinds of good things with their money (i.e. building windfarms). How about Richard Branson? The Saudis? Warren Buffet? The Waltons (not John-Boy and them) are worth $75 billion between them alone!

    3. I am not rejecting philanthropy. $300 million dollars could do a lot of good for a lot of people. But I think this is just one piece of a much larger movement that’s got to coalesce around this thing.

    sorry for the ramble, but I get into this stuff 🙂

  6. We are going to have to agree to disagree on this particular thing. I agree that advertising is important, no doubt…but actually doing something substantial with the money could encourage other people with a ton of money to do something as well. I really like what Al Gore has done in the last couple of years, but really, I think people are tired of hearing him just talk – a $300 million investment in powering any 80,000 homes would be a real event that maybe even the Walton’s could get involved in. I am not holding my breathe for them to do anything for anyone other than themselves though…

    Thanks Tim, you are not rambling – its good to hear from a “policy” guy on this stuff!

  7. It would be great to see an increase in renewable energy. In Calfornia, there are various solar companies popping up and I’m sure other states can increase there renewable energy sources too. With the current job market I’m sure an increase in renewable energy could really help many people. I’m sure it would also help if people who are interested can find Solar Training .

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