Category Archives: Articles

Biofuels & the Oil Industry

I was reading a NY Times article yesterday, called "Oil Industry Says Biofuel Push May Keep Gases Prices High". In the article, oil executives are pointing an accusing finger at the government’s direction for promoting biofuels as the latest reason for high gas prices. "Congress is considering legislation calling for a nearly fivefold increase in the use of ethanol" and that consideration and not the explosion at a BP refinery in Texas, nor the abduction of oil workers in the Middle East nor the desire for tidy profits is what is keeping gas prices high.

Are they kidding me? Exxon had its most profitable year ever last year. Ever.  I just don’t believe that a consideration has caused the industry to react that quickly to rethink their investments in new refineries, which would then influence this current spike in oil prices right before the busy driving weekend of the year.  Gosh, such market nimbleness. You would think that an industry able to react that quickly to market changes would also be on the leading edge of R&D and would be at the forefront of any new alternative fuel research.

It is absolutely frustrating to read articles like this. On one hand, you have this spurious claim by oil exec. for rising prices and then you hear that congress wants to increase the use of the ethanol, the least efficient biofuel – it takes as much energy to convert corn to ethanol as it creates. Where is the gain in that?

Having said all that, we are still going away for the long weekend. I am toying with the idea of trying to limit the amount I drive by car to 50 miles a week and those miles I don’t use, bank them for another time. I work from home most days and go into work one day a week, sometimes two and the office is 26 miles round trip.  Maybe 50 is too high. I’ll have to wait and see but I think the idea of working toward limiting the miles I drive for routine errands might be a way to counter the mileage we drive when we go on trips.  Sort of like a savings account.

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The Cost of Climate Change

An article in The Economist outlines the cost of cutting emissions, which they reckon is about 0.1% of the world’s GDP.  You can read about how the heating and lighting of buildings is currently inefficient and improvement could cut bills and emissions.

But what I felt was the most important piece of the article was this sentence:

Burning fossil fuels imposes a cost to society that is not reflected in their price. Economics says that it should be; and if it were, the price of using fossil fuels would rise in relation to the price of using renewable energy.

So, the cost at the pump is not an accurate price and gives fossil fuel an unfair economic advantage relative to other renewable energy options. This artificially low price has allowed us to continue driving larger and larger vehicles without having to pay the true cost to the environment. Isn’t that some sort of subsidy or welfare – we haven’t actually earned the money to drive around in cars getting 28 miles to gallon but have been bankrolled to do it.

So, the argument I don’t want to pay extra for my energy rings false when we haven’t been paying the true value for it, in the first place. We shouldn’t have to pay extra but we should have access to the most efficient burning fuels that give us the most value for our money, and that value includes a smaller impact on our environment.   

New Urbanism

I picked up this month’s Dwell magazine and they had a very short review of New Urbanism. The piece refers to the Congress for New Urbanism and how this fringe idea has evolved and is now, in some cases,  becoming a little muddled in its goal. Maybe perhaps the Holiday area in Boulder,which boasts price tags of $729,000,  has begun to deviate a little from its original idea.

The article is not worth picking up the Dwell mag for but it’s timely that this idea of new urbanism is being reassessed in its application and practicality.

Wind Power off the Gulf of Mexico

Very interesting article in Feb. issue of Wired magazine. The title of the article is called Inherit the Wind and it is about a company called Wind Energy Systems Technology (WEST). This company is reusing old oil platforms to mount conventional windmills to create one of the first off-shore wind farms in the U.S.

Of course the article played to a few typical Texan stereotypes but that’s okay because the article also included this:

…a Stanford University study that identified the Louisiana-Texas
coastline as one of the best spots in the US for wind power. Average
wind speed is exceptionally high, and it blows hardest during the
hottest hours of the day, when demand for power is at its peak and
electricity prices are highest.

But what about the hurricanes? There are quite a few discussions going about that and one of the gentlemen involved with the project (Herman Schellstede) is talking platform height and shutting turbines down during a storm. So, we’ll see but definitely an interesting topic.

BMW & Hydrogen

I read an article on cnnmoney called BMW’s Hydrogen 7: Future or flop? BMW owns Mini so I was particularly interested to read whether their hydrogen engine would be showing up anytime soon. According to the article, there are just three hydrogen filling stations in the United States. The H-7 is meant to be a transitional car until there are hydrogen filling stations dotting the landscape sometime in 2027. At this rate, I’ll be able to buy my mini when I am 67 years old. Perfect!

Tomorrow I am riding my bike into work.

Solar Power – Dwell Magazine

I picked up this month’s Dwell because the front cover read "Modern Living on a Budget" and I really wanted and hoped they would explain how to do that. Most of the time their magazine is filled with pictures of beautiful rooms that lead out to well-tended back gardens or a simple walk way to the beach. These rooms are filled with choice pieces of furniture and do not include people, books, shoes or any other sign of life. I’m being unfair but only slightly.

In this issue, they had a whole section on solar energy. I read about passive solar setup, which relies upon clever building techniques to cool/heat a room and active solar, which uses expensive PV (photovoltaic panels) but allows you  to use the grid as a storage system. One of the homes the article featured was in Austin; I think Dwell loves Austin as it always seem to pop up. What was interesting is that architect/builder used  "City of Austin Rebate Program" to slash the cost of his active solar system in half. Wow!  So, I checked in on Boulder’s rebate program and here is the rebate:

The rebate is approximately 16% of the City sales tax paid for 2006 and
approximately 15% for 2007.

Not quite as impressive as Austin’s program but not bad.

The magazine also had a list of impractical solar goods you can buy and use to impress other modern living folks. I liked the enamel paint that can cool the surface of a house by 10 degrees.

Boulder County Business Journal

I get the Boulder County Business Journal and they have a whole section on Green. This week’s article is about the Sustainable Opportunities Week Summit, which will be held Feb. 28 – March 2nd at the Sheraton Four Points at Hampden and I-25 in Denver. The article talks about "how green is the new google" but doesn’t give much info on who is attending and if it is open to the public. However, there is a Program Overview. Mel Coleman Jr., (pres. of Coleman natural foods)made some interesting points in the article about  how companies can maintain their culture  as they  get larger and introduced this idea of the "triple bottom line" – fiscal, social and environmental. I thought this was a great point. I think increasingly the impact a company has on the environment will have to be included in how you value a company’s worth. If a company is going great guns but is consuming and polluting at the same pace, there should be someway to include the dollar amount (of that pollution) in the cost of doing business.  Of course, that additional cost will probably be passed onto consumers. But then we can decide  if those goods and services are worth the additional costs until an alternative or  cheaper way is found to provide the same goods.

The cost of the Summit is $285 for an individual. I wonder why these events are so expensive and they don’t open the doors to the general public to review what’s going on? Eco-Snobs!