Friday, March 02, 2007

Gore's Energy Consumption Is An Issue

While we like former Vice President Al Gore and his Inconvenient Truth campaign to educate the public of the global warming peril, we are disappointed to learn of the massive electric bill at his Nashville home.

The fact that the initial report came from a right-wing Tennessee political organization (not a "think-tank" as some media reported it) doesn't change its significance.

It appears undisputed that Gore's home used approximately 221,000 kwh's of electricity last year. That is a LOT. Comparing Gore's use to the average American home--which uses roughly 10,500 kwh's per annum--is probably unfair. Certainly Gore's home is larger than average.

It appears to us, however, that Gore's energy use far exceeds what even a larger home, even a mansion, should be using. There may be some extenuating circumstances: for example, the Gore household has some security features that no ordinary home would have. There could be other factors as well. For example, we learned that an old electric greenhouse heater we inherited from the previous owners of our home was gobbling up 12,000 kwh's of electricity a year--nearly half our total--before we replaced it. Since we can't imagine how Gore could use such a vast amount of electricity absent some extraordinary circumstance, we'd be curious to hear the full story.

What we can't accept, however, is the argument of some Gore supporters sho say that whatever his electric consumption, it's ok, because Gore is enrolled in the GreenPower program of his local utility. Under such programs, consumers opt to pay a premium to their utility in exchange for a promise that the utility will obtain that electricity from renewable sources (usually wind).

The problem we have with this argument--i.e., that enrolling in GreenPower exempts Gore from scrutiny--is that it kind of assumes unlimited renewable resources. Gore is using up a lot of wind and solar, which means less to offset the carbon emissions of others. Wind and solar are better than oil and coal, but they still consume other resources, such as steel. There's no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to energy.

That's why we harp on conservation here. We're in favor of reasonable energy conservation--that is measures that don't significantly reduce our standard of living--combined with heavy investment in and development of renewable energy sources.

As we've reported here before, the Curmudgeon household has significantly reduced it's electricity consumption through a combination of conservation measures and installation of solar panels. In February, we reached a new monthly low of 625 kwh's, which is darn good for a house as large as ours. (That's almost half our usage in February '06, which was 1115 kwh's--most of the savings is from fluorescent lighting and simply turning our electronics off each night.) While that's a good start, we're still concerned that our carbon footprint (from our natural gas usage, cars, beef consumption, etc.) is still quite massive.

Gore says that he, too, is renovating his house to make it more energy efficient, and that he plans to add some solar panels to his home. By our calculation, he'd have to install more than 1000 of the Curmudgeon's 190 watt Evergreen panels--at a cost of more than a million dollars--to offset his current use of electricity. We doubt if his roof is big enough for that.

Gore can't just talk the talk. He needs to walk the walk. Home is a great place to start.


The Green Miles said...

I could not disagree with you more on this. You say, "Gore is using up a lot of wind and solar, which means less to offset the carbon emissions of others," but that's completely wrong. Wind and solar are not finite resources that Gore is hoarding. It's the total opposite. His investment encourages power companies to harvest more of a potentially unlimited supply.

And when it comes to greenhouse gases, no matter how efficient your home is, you're still buying power from Dominion, which produces the majority of its power by burning coal. Do you really think your usage of Dominion's coal-fired power is better for the environment than Gore's use of zero-emissions solar and wind power?

X Curmudgeon said...

Gee, usually we're on the same page as Miles. Here's our point: for the power company to "harvest" wind or solar energy, it has to erect wind turbines or put up solar panels, which also have to be manufactured. So we don't think it's quite enough to say, "well, I'm using greenpower so I can just waste as much electricity as I want."

We do think GreenPower programs are a good way to jumpstart power company investment in renewable energy--we sure wish Dominion had that program in Virginia (they have it in NC, due to legislation; why they can't offer it in Va, even absent legislation, is beyond us.) We are looking into an alternative program that allows us to purchase green credits--not quite as attractive, but better than nothing.

However, to go straight to Miles' point: we'd bet our small usage of Dominion's coal-fired power has a smaller overall environmental effect than Gore's massive use of electricity from solar and wind once you calculate the manufacturing and materials costs.

Our bottom line is that renewables should not be a license to waste energy.

Anonymous said...

"Our bottom line is that renewables should not be a license to waste energy."

That was my exact same point to Miles on his blog about the same topic. Apparently, however, he equates that sort of rationale, as some sort of attack on Al Gore! Its not, but Al Gore simply hasn't gone far enough, if he is going to be a representative of the issue in the full sense of the matter. And by not going all the way, he makes himself a target for those who refuse the change, and who still embrace traditional sources of energy with less than up-to-date technology.

Also, Miles and a few others keep insisting that wind and sun have some sort of endless resource for humankind at our present disposal. That and linking carbon offsets should make matters all good, which Al Gore seems to be spearheading.

But was it not realized, regarding wind, its implementation on a grand scale onshore would require the massive seizure of private property, the destruction of a large quantity trees which would forever affect wilderness and also will require more transmission lines. Offshore, a grand scale wind farm would possibly cause considerable negative environmental affects on migratory bird passageways up and down the east coast. Furthermore, the structures would be physically threatened by winter storm and hurricane activity, creating less of a reliable energy source and also creating a financial burden with regards to repairs, and states finding alternative sources to meet NERC & FERC standards when outages to windmill force reliability to fall below those legal standards.

Solar on the otherhand, is not quite yet presently viable on a grand scale, nor is it on an affordable household scale. Current DOE investment provide an estimated date of marketability around 2015 to 2025. At that point, smaller amount of acreage can be devoted to solar farms which would then be more compatiable to the environment and those forces who currently opposes them. Secondly, more individual homeowners can utilitize this source where it is geographically suitable (SE and locations where weather is not destructive to panels.)

In time, not Al Gore, technology will resolve this C02 & GHG issue. Safe nuclear power, smaller solar pv panels, near zero emission hydrogen-coal plants, and industrial electricity storage facilities are all at our nation's doorsteps. These are the answers to our problems.

Anonymous said...

sorry but a type-o found

" (SE and locations where weather is not destructive to panels.)"

should be SW / southwest, not southeast.

X Curmudgeon said...

Dan makes some good points. One we want to follow up on is about safe nuclear. Even with good conservation programs and widespread use of wind and solar, we still need a base electric supply available around the clock and in all weather conditions. Nuclear can do the trick with practically no carbon emissions, so we think that's the way to go. (In the west, geothermal energy might be able to supply the base load in many jurisdictions.)

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