Alternative fuel problems in Maine

Posted: 22/06/2008 in Uncategorized
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I’m sure any of you that are readers from Maine will more than agree with me when I say that Maine is a tough place to live, especially in the winter time. We have to deal with a wide range of potential difficulties, some that occur every year, and others that only occur now and again. Like the famous Ice Storm of ’98. That was a pretty awesome time for us all, wasn’t it? I can remember driving my car in to work, dodging around newly fallen branches and trees on a daily basis. we had no power for fourteen days or so. But I was prepared. We never froze, and had no problem cooking or keeping food cold at all. But a lot of people had to go to shelters and live off of others to survive. They weren’t prepared as they should have been. Food and fuel needs to be stocked up for emergencies. Heating needs need to be addressed. Also transportation, medical, communications and so on.
This whole oil situation we’ve gotten ourselves into is about the same type of problem, I believe. The posted prices I saw for regular gas today were all over $4.00per gallon. I heard a DJ on the radio on Friday evening mention that she had paid $4.179 for gas at a place on route 1, but that it had dropped down a dime by the time she passed the station again on her way home. That’s a lot of money, even if you’ve got a little car. Just think about the minor segment of the population that seems to feel they need to clog up the streets with those Hummers and Hemi filled one tons and Expeditions. I would like to feel that somebody that has a job making enough cash to keep one of those monsters going would know better, but they don’t. the gas wars of the ‘70’s should have been a well learned, and remembered lesson, but they weren’t. the muscle cars that died off to make room for the little import sardine cars and the short lived Yugo have faded away, and have been replaced with supersized luxury SUV’s and pickups that most people really don’t need.
I was disheartened today to learn that Susan Collins is against the attempts to drill off of our Continental Shelves, siding with the Liberal Left on the issue. Olympia Snowe was no surprise, of course, as she has frequently turned her back on Conservative issues and supported those who would turn the US into a Socialist nation. And this time of winter is no exception. There are a lot of accusations floating around in the world of the internet news sources as to who is to blame for these high gas prices we are burdened with today. To a point, I think it is only fair to say that we deserve what we are getting with these prices. Analysts over the years have warned that prices would be skyrocketing at some point, and the US should be prepared to meet that time of hardship.
But like those who were unprepared for the Ice Storm of ’98, many who live in this country fail to see the need to be prepared. Katrina lambasted New Orleans, people were told to leave, and yet many refused, and even more were unable to because there had been to preparations in place for the emergency. So now we have to be held hostage to the ever rising oil markets, paying more than twice every week what we had been paying even six months ago, in some cases. The moratorium on drilling off of our coasts is now preventing us from taking control of yet another runaway wagon, shackling us to the Mid Eastern oil conglomerates and governments. Most of whom are not really all that friendly or reliable as allies to us.
The E10 alternative

Instead, we turn to a rash of unproven concepts we call alternative energy sources. All of which have yet to prove they can fill the need, and all of which are only affordable if subsidized by the government, which means you and I as taxpayers foot the bill. Here in Maine, we’ve seen the arrival of E10 gasoline in the last few months, and its presence is growing. Is it any cheaper? I’ve seen a couple of places with the stickers on the pumps, but the price per gallon isn’t any cheaper than 100% gasoline. Strange, when you consider the fact that we taxpayers pay the producers, often referred to as ‘blenders’ a tax credit of 0.51 per gallon of 100% ethanol. For E10, that works out to 0.051 per gallon of fuel at the pump. That actually makes E10 more expensive than regular gas, because you are not only paying the same price as regular gasoline, you are giving the blenders an extra 0.05 per gallon as a tax credit. That makes for a double whammy, which is getting pretty tough to tolerate.
In addition to the cost issue, we have the environmental aspects to consider as well. One of the supposed attributes of ethanol is that it has a lower CO2 emission percentage than regular gasoline does. And in fact it does. However, studies from the EPA show that as temperatures decreased, toxic emissions, including THC’s, or total hydrocarbons, such as CO2. Cold weather negates any benefit that could be gained by using the blend. Other toxins as well, such as NOS, Benzene, 1,3 butadiene, Aldehydes and various particulates increased as the temperatures were lowered. That tends to happen quite often here in Maine. I didn’t examine the results for E85 as it will probably be some time before the blend will be sold here in Maine.
The Cato institute has an article at http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=7308 that examines many of the popularly held misconceptions regarding ethanol as an alternative fuel.
The wood pellet alternative
Wood pellets have also been touted as a grand alternative as fuel for heating. This product too has problems to consider. People of lower income have a harder time paying for heat, but the restrictions on the use of the equipment can make it an un-obtainable resource. Pellet stoves can be expensive, for one. They also cannot be installed in manufactured housing, and much of Maine’s lower income population live in manufactured housing. Apartments are also not suited for the installation of this equipment. And then we must consider the fact that the stoves require electricity, which will contribute to a higher electric bill than a regular oil fired furnace would.

Cost wise, the pellets may be very competitive on a pound for pound basis at the moment, but what about next year? As demand increases, the cost will increase. And also with the increase in demand will be the need for more and more wood to supply the mills manufacturing the pellets. That will require increased harvests, consuming more forestland, and further elevating the price as available supply dwindles. There is only so much waste wood in the supply stream, and at some point, higher grades of timber will need to be accessed to provide feedstock. The cost for pellet heating will surely increase, and sooner or later become more expensive than using oil for heating.

The wind power alternative
Wind power is yet another heavily marketed alternative that in reality will never become the true answer to our needs. There are several reasons for that here in Maine. One reason is that we refuse to allow wind towers in the most desirable locations. Namely within view of portions of the Appalachian Trail. But even if we did allow the construction of these towers there, what would the true cost be? You have to consider not only the costs of the towers and turbines, but the cost of distribution as well. High voltage power lines will have to be constructed through Maine’s dense forests, requiring wide swaths of land to be clear cut, and maintained on an annual or semiannual basis, increasing the presumed costs, thus reducing cost benefits to the use of this power alternative.
Which way do we turn?
Which way do we turn indeed. Many alternatives are available to address the issue of rising energy costs, but no one alternative alone can replace the sheer energy that hydrocarbon based fuels, usually called fossil fuels by the left. The BTU output of oil far exceeds that of ethanol, and the ease and efficiency of oils use for heating and power generation make it the only common sense approach today. Until the technology of these alternatives advances to the point where the cost becomes much cheaper than today, there will be no good choice for an alternative means of energy. We need to break out of the harness imposed upon us by rules and regulations that require we become hostage to foreign governments and their oil supplies. We can only do this by increasing domestic production, both in ANWR and on the coastal shelves.
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