March 30, 2009

State editorial on Efficiency

Sun, Mar. 29, 2009
Lakshmi: Recession changes energy equation
Guest Columnist

In a period of less than 48 hours, state regulators approved Santee Cooper’s plan to build a $2.2 billion coal-powered plant near Florence and SCE&G’s plan to add two new reactors to its nuclear plant at Jenkinsville at a cost of around $10 billion.

Environmentalists have raised several valid concerns about both projects. The coal plant will emit carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that is the primary cause of global warming — and mercury, which can enter ponds, lakes, streams and rivers, be ingested by fish and eventually enter the human system; exposure to even small amounts can cause neurological disorders in humans. Radioactivity could escape from nuclear reactors into the atmosphere; in addition, a nuclear plant needs enormous amounts of water to turn into steam to drive the turbines, and a water shortage during periods of drought may compromise plant operations.

However the most persuasive argument against these plants may come from dollars and cents.

The United States has one of the highest per capita consumptions of energy in the world. Only oil-producing countries use more energy per capita.

In the past few months, our local, national and global economy has slowed to the point that economic indicators are at the same point as a decade ago. There has been a definite decline in manufacturing; auto parts manufacturers have closed down due to the slowdown in automobile sales. Consumer spending is down across the board. With less industrial demand today than two years ago, is it wise to commit billions of dollars to build these new plants? Or should we wait and see if consumption and energy use go back up and then make a final decision? And shouldn’t everyone be working harder to reduce energy consumption, regardless?

There are numerous ways that factories can improve their efficiency, by reducing their energy consumption during non-peak times. A few ideas that are already being implemented in some places are more efficient lighting, with light bulbs that use less energy and switch off when not required; variable-speed motors, which use high speeds and high energy consumption during peak times and lower consumption during non-peak times; and water recycling.

Households can put lighting, heating and cooling on timing devices that minimize their usage when not required, saving money as well as energy. Combining energy efficiency and cost savings creates a powerful argument that appeals to everyone.

If the economy does not recover to its pre-2008 levels and the energy demands do not increase according to our predictions, we will be faced with the high costs of these plants, which will be transmitted to the consumers in the form of higher costs for every kilowatt of power. Using caution and cost-benefit analysis before embarking on these large construction projects is a wise idea. Twelve billion dollars is nearly twice what the state government spends in a year. Even if we spread this over 10 years, it would come to $1.2 billion, which is about what legislators have cut out of the current year’s state budget.

These are times of grave economic challenges. But with challenge comes opportunity. South Carolina and America must lead the way in energy conservation and efficiency. We need to get the United States off the top per capita energy consumption list — a list we definitely should not head. All these moves will help to delay construction of costly new energy plants and thereby conserve our monetary and energy resources.

The time is now.

Dr. Lakshmi is chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at USC.

No comments:

Post a Comment