TOM WARD - Green energy's challenge

TOM WARD - Green energy's challenge

A big economic "green shoot" popped up with Monday's announcement that CVS, of Woonsocket (and, frankly, of all of northern Rhode Island) will purchase the insurance giant Aetna, of Hartford, Conn. The combined companies will have nearly a quarter trillion dollars in revenue, and could make CVS Health the second largest company in the United States. Seriously.

Now mind you, nobody is talking about Aetna moving its jobs to this area, but it stands to reason that some may come as company "synergies" are meshed in the years ahead.

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows I'm no fan of the high-tax, high-energy cost environment that challenges businesses here. The good news? Connecticut is even dumber! You'll recall General Electric moved from Connecticut to Boston last year, and will open a digital center in Rhode Island. Last year, Aetna said they were pulling up stakes and moving to New York City. Might that change now, and perhaps benefit our area? I hope so!

Still, there is much work to do to help small businesses thrive. Lowering punishing energy costs would be a big help. Gov. Gina Raimondo remains on a political tightrope with the proposed natural gas fired plant in Burrillville. Its carbon emissions would be far less than what came from coal plants in the past, but still, residents in northwest Rhode Island don't want it.

We can all keep hoping the sustainable fairy arrives, bringing us clean, predictable wind and solar power at low prices. But it's not going to happen anytime soon. Personally, I'd love to see this region redouble its efforts to purchase clean hydro power from Quebec, where they have a surplus.

There were a few examples last week of how intractable the problem of "sustainable, clean, carbon-free power vs. fossil fuels" will remain. Two things happened:

1) The backers of Cape Wind, a huge, 130-turbine wind farm planned off Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, collapsed. After a nearly two-decade fight, proponents gave up.

2) As part of the Republican plan for tax reform, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, gave her OK by Congress agreeing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling.

Now I don't know, person by person, who complained enough to kill Cape Wind, but I have a feeling that many of the people who keep lecturing us about clean energy didn't want to see 130 tall turbines off their back porches during the summer. Years ago it was reported that this was "beautiful people NIMBYism" of the first order, with the rich and famous – including the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy – not wanting their precious views blighted by windmills. Eleven years later: Mission accomplished.

Then there is drilling for oil at ANWR. Most Americans who've lived their entire lives under the thumb of OPEC and Middle East sheiks agree that it's a good thing when we find new oil supplies in the U.S., and ANWR is no exception. ANWR, in extreme northern Alaska, has 19.5 million acres of land, and 92 percent of it "can't legally be touched," wrote The Wall Street Journal in an editorial Dec. 1.

The editorial continues, "But as part of a deal to enlarge ANWR in 1980, a Democratic Senate set aside one barren, frozen strip of coastal land for exploration. Modern innovations such as horizontal drilling mean that only about 2,000 acres will even be necessary for drilling. That equals 0.0001 percent of the refuge and is a scant 60 miles away from the existing trans-Alaska pipeline."

Also, "The U.S. Geological Survey estimates this sliver of land contains at least 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and these estimates are probably conservative." The oil and gas at ANWR would go a very long way in moving the U.S. toward energy independence and away from OPEC's grip. Eventually – but not anytime soon – we'll reduce our use of fossil fuels. In the meantime, I feel safer counting on our energy supply more than Saudi Arabia's.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze.


Sorry I'm late.

I find it odd when discussions like this have political sides to it. The most ignorant part when talking about conservation is the fact that it shares the same root as conservatism. For some dumb reason, talking faces like to associate green energy, land protection, and environmental safe guards with liberalism. What the heck? The EPA was founded by Republicans and has a huge history of being spear-headed by Republicans. George W did more for protecting the environment and creating strict standards in his first year than Obama did in all 8.

For some reason modern Republicans have either shied from the topic or contorted it as a liberal ideal. They did the reverse with military spending. Spending $500 billion to send our children oversees to liberate other nations doesn't sound conservative to me. (Sounds like international welfare really).

But anyway. Renewable energy is the next huge industry. USA is already lagging behind. Brushing aside this kind of innovation is akin to parents saying "stop playing with your computer" in the 90s. Thank god they didn't listen. Until people actually open their minds and quit adding stigma to something that is inevitable and beneficial on every facet, we are going to continue to get weird arguments and no direction.

Hydro from Quebec is a mixed bag. I'd like to see the states closer to the transmission source get dibs and free up the other sources to us, here in RI. RI will never enjoy reduced rates or enhanced reliability unless we source our energy closer. The bottle neck from our Nat Gas will see that our supply remains choked. So more NG farming and oil drilling doesn't help me much.

Put solar on your roof. End of story. "It's not ready yet". Make it ready! Stop making the same excuse and innovate. Quit making the discussion political and agree to embrace this industry. iPhones couldn't have happened if Atari's didn't come first. Now we have super-computers in our pockets. Imagine that.

Should the 27 residents of Old Smithfield Road, North Smithfield, be forced to take down their "No Turbines" signs and allow Ruth Pacheco the tall wind turbine on her land? Should their freedom on their own land be restricted for what you might consider the greater environmental good?
Should they "Put (a wind turbine) on your (street). End of story....Stop making the same excuse and innovate."
Is this how you believe Ruth's neighbors should be handled?

yes evidently he does think that. Never mind the fact that roof mounted solar panels make it damn near impossible for the fire dept to properly put down a fire since they can't properly ventilate the roof, or the salesmen who knock on your door extolling the virtues of solar power don't tell you that they also put a lien on your home as part of the process.

That's exactly my point. There's no direction, so odd things are happening. There can easily be an initiative to promote and regulate the industry. Because we are so far behind the curve, we just have people randomly putting up windmills and solar panels. Woonsocket has a new water plant going up soon in the highest part of the city. I think I heard of putting a turbine(s) on that space, but that was a fleeting comment at best. Commit to something and get it done.

I remember the huge pushback from the removal of incandescent lightbulbs. People were outraged because the cost and availability of LEDs and others were ridiculous. Now they're almost free and they last forever. The point is, accept and adopt the superior technology and watch it evolve. There's no better place than New England to run with a green initiative. But it needs to be done concertedly, not just Ms Ruth putting up her 1 controversial turbine.

There's my other point. The misinformation that comes from the lack of any public initiative. Sunnyvale says that the salesmen don't tell you of the lien from solar panels. First off, there is typically only a lien if you are leasing the panels and the company wishes to secure it's right to THEIR panels. It's not really a lien on the house, but a lien on the product on the house. Give them back their product, no lien. This happens with many types of leased fixtures. This isn't hidden information. It's in the contract you sign and even on the company websites. Again, if the community is involved in this stuff, then this is all common knowledge. But there is minimal community involvement, so people rely on odd anecdotes.

Anecdotes like solar panels being a fire hazard. This is a weird argument. You are offering to stifle innovation because of an instance that probably will never occur. The likelihood of a catastrophic house fire is extremely low per house. You are implying that 100 houses should not have solar panels because 1 might catch fire and will not be able to be ventilated enough to burn out. That's a slim argument. Besides, panels are typically only on 1 side and have gaps.

These is the kind of weird arguments that is fostered from lack of public involvement and discourse. I've also heard that turbines kill bats and ok. Create a public initiative, educate the leaders and the people, determine if it makes sense. Stop learning from other people's mistakes.

(PS. please don't response for me.)

Sorry, your "please don't respond" came up after I responded. I'll shut up now. Last word, if any, is all yours. New column hits tomorrow anyway. This was written earlier.

But Tom, "Miss Ruth" has no turbines. Only land. The offer to site only one turbine comes from a company. They did not ask for more. The RI/Mass./Conn. tri-state area is compact, and filled with people. We aren't west Texas, with huge wind farms, and there are limits to solar. Like it or not, they don't generate much power. So we need "compact power" near us. Along comes the Burrillville proposal, and we see what happens. Environmentalists oppose all fossil fuel use, but fossil fuel is predictable, its use can be adjusted. Nuclear is compact, too, and powerful. But we know where that one would end up. So where do we get our compact, predictable, high energy...the kind that powers large buildings that need light, computers and servers, and be heated and cooled? Put solar panels on a sewage treatment plant and see how that goes. Where shall we get "the big stuff?" Yes, we all need to do "the small stuff" and conserve. I do it too. But wind and solar won't deliver "big power" for a very long time. That's our mutual predicament. And trampling on property rights of people who don't see things your way might not work so well politically. It's a challenge for sure.