Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
A better plan for our climate
By HASSO HERING, Albany Democrat Herald 2/4/07
Last week’s report from Oregon State University on biofuels was instructive, but it should not have been a surprise.
The report by a team of economists in the College of Agricultural Sciences pointed out that when everything was considered, the costs of developing certain biofuels were enormous — in some cases much higher than gas or diesel — and that any environmental benefits from switching to such fuels might be had much less expensively by other means.
The economics should not surprise us because they are obvious in everyday life. If it were cheap to make fuel from corn, canola or even wood, it would be done on a huge scale, and it probably would have replaced petroleum-based fuels long ago. Since this hasn’t happened, we can reasonably deduce that it isn’t economical.
As the researchers pointed out, producing fuel from plants requires that huge areas be set aside for farming certain crops, and that ways be found to deal with the byproducts. And even after all that is accomplished and the problems are solved, the kind of fuel substitution that is feasible still won’t get us very far toward independence from foreign oil.
What all this suggests is that the attention officials in Salem are paying to the biofuel issue may be — if not exactly a waste of time, then at least a distraction from more serious steps toward a better energy policy.
Here’s an example of how our energy policy could be improved: Just now, federal agencies are insisting on expensive modifications to four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River as a condition of issuing new licenses to Pacific Power to operate the dams. Pacific says it will persist in seeking relicensing, but the cost may eventually cause it to change its mind and give in to those who want the dams torn down. (Something similar happened in 1993 when the prospect of expensive repairs caused PGE to throw in the towel on the Trojan power plant.)
The dams on the Klamath produce energy without the slightest increase in greenhouse gases. If they are shut down, the power will have to come from something else, maybe wind or geothermal, but most likely a coal or gas-burning plant in some other state. Not only that, but the dams also enhance, by their ability to produce power at a moment’s notice, the utility’s ability to develop alternatives such as wind power, which needs backup when the wind does not blow.
If we want to get along without fossil energy for electricity or even transportation in the long run, electricity is the cleanest way. So a better policy against global warming would encourage more hydropower dams, not make them so expensive that they’re taken out. (hh)
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