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An inconvenient truth about energy

Energy — its quality, use and cost — are again forefront as our country and the world try to address the matter of climate change.

When I was a kid, once a week or so, in the winter, my father, after completing his daily routine of spreading manure in the field, would bring the emptied manure spreader back to the house loaded with firewood that he had cut the previous summer. We burned wood then for heat. He would park the spreader out next to the cellar window of our house, and it would be my job — when I got home from school — to unload the wood and throw it into the cellar where we could then feed it into the furnace. I hated that job!

My Dad also didn’t like all of the hard work involved, and I can remember how happy he was when the gas company finally ran a pipeline up our road so that we could burn natural gas. Now, things have changed to the point where some people are turning against natural gas in their quest to “reduce our carbon footprint.”

At the time we were burning wood, many homes were heated by coal — you saw the smoke coming from chimneys as you went to school. It took decades to move from coal to natural gas to help clean up the air. Now, promises are being made that wind and solar can be relied upon to power and heat everything.

What I object to most in today’s energy debate is the overly-simplistic promise by some advocates of clean energy that this will be a quick and easy transition. It won’t be. The biggest problem being that wind and solar energy are, by definition, interruptible. Yet, the electric grid succeeds only if can be relied upon all the time, i.e. when you flip the switch, the lights come on even if the sun is not shining or the wind blowing. We need firm, reliable electric service without interruption.

Right now, about a third of our energy supply on the grid comes from natural gas turbines or combined- cycle plants which provide this firm service. As we have shifted electrical production away from coal to natural gas, it has also been natural gas that has significantly reduced CO 2 emissions in the country.

As to electricity, one of its major problems has always been the inability to store it for use during peak times. Batteries are getting better but storing electricity is still a big problem. That means that for the foreseeable future natural gas plants are going to be needed to ensure reliability on the grid.

It is an inconvenient truth, but it is going to be a long, arduous process to completely shift our economy to renewable energy sources. The climate crisis developed over decades and centuries, not in a day. Addressing it and fixing it will also take time. Those who are promising a carbon neutral future by a specific date like 2030 or 2035 are “whistling Dixie.” They are also misleading the public — especially when you consider the fact that countries like India and China are still constructing coal plants.

I believe that probably our best potential solution for future clean electric energy supply lies in the development of nuclear fusion — a process which, unlike nuclear fission, does not create large quantities of radioactive waste. But, developing a commercial nuclear fusion plant still seems to be a long way off.

And, as to heating my house, another “inconvenient truth” is that I have an old back, and I am done with unloading wood from manure spreaders as a way to stay warm. I am sticking with the blue flame!

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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