March 26, 2009

From Hydrogen to A World of Home-Grown Alternatives

From this week's Columbia Free Times, a wide ranging look at alternatives to projects like Santee Cooper's proposed coal plant:
Through the prism of a hydrogen atom, the eyes of the nation and the world fall on Columbia and South Carolina for five days beginning Monday.

That is good news to South Carolinians getting swept up in economic convulsions of the time. After all, residents of the state average some of the highest power bills in the country. And all in all, South Carolina depends on coal for 61 percent of its electricity and nuclear power for 31 percent of it, a combined 92 percent, according to a state legislative report released in February.

Those numbers could rise.

With ratepayers set up to foot the bills, the train has left the station on plans by state-owned Santee Cooper to build a coal-fired power plant in Florence County and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., in partnership with Santee Cooper, to construct two more reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant that SCE&G owns and operates near Columbia, as well as designs by Duke Energy to bring two additional nuclear reactors online in the Upstate region of South Carolina.

It is true even despite well-documented toxic pollution associated with coal- and nuclear-based power.

In that sense, then, South Carolina finds itself at two roads diverged on a path to the energy future. One road bends toward a dark past — the black seam of coal and the thousands of lifetimes of radioactive waste that is nuclear. The other way leads to a sort of last-place-to-first-place story waiting to be told:

In the affluent Heathwood neighborhood of Columbia, where drafty old mansions hold fast but inefficient, and across rural swaths of the Palmetto State, where row after row of poorly insulated manufactured homes stretch out upon the land.

In hydrogen laboratories at the university and other research and development operations in the state, where the vision of Oppenheimer has evolved from splitting the atom for extinction-level purposes to tapping the most bountiful element in the universe for its clean-energy potential.

Along the sleepy back roads of the state in forested fields and other agricultural assets, where grow enormous, renewable sources of biofuels.

Off the coast, where Mother Nature whistles strong winds atop the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
And in the sunny climate of South Carolina, where a virtually limitless solar source shines silently, lingering to be harnessed.

It is fitting then, as the city, state, nation and world hone in on hydrogen, to consider other options along with it. “I don’t think there’s any single silver bullet,” says John Clark, director of the S.C. Energy Office. “I think the key is going to be having greater diversity in energy sources than we have.”

Just how much clean energy potential does South Carolina have? Part of the answer comes from this study by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. It busts the myth that the Southeast -- and South Carolina -- doesn't have enough renewable energy. It shows that our state has enough clean energy to power 15% of the state over the near term -- long term the potential to power ourselves from home-grown energy resources is greater than all the energy we use today.

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