The Green Climate-Change movement demands reduced emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Activists like Al Gore call CO2 a "pollutant" and claim that it is warming the globe. Al says the warming will ultimately reach catastrophic levels that will melt the polar ice caps and raise sea levels by 20+ feet - thereby flooding coastal areas. Meanwhile, we'll all be roasted.Water- and wind-generated electric power are touted as “solutions”. Neither produces CO2, but each comes with certain baggage. Hydro-generation requires either a natural place where significant water falls over a considerable gradient, or a dam with a huge lake behind it. Wind-generation needs constant winds and space for its windmills and electrical gear.
A recent article gives one pause about hydroelectric. Reporting for the Associated Press (“Power woes shock Ugandan economy”, Washington Times; 6/28/07), Katy Pownall (1) wrote that Uganda’s economic growth – 6.8% for several years – has fallen off because of insufficient electricity. Uganda has long enjoyed cheap power from hydroelectric plants on Victoria – the vast lake it shares with Tanzania and Kenya. A net exporter of power before 2000, Uganda now uses every watt from the Victoria generators, but needs more. Unmet demand has forced rationing that puts the capital, Kampala, in darkness for up to 30 hours at a time.
Uganda’s power crisis stems mainly from lower electricity output from the Victoria plants due to falling water levels in the lake. This has forced Uganda to buy backup diesel generators whose power is far more expensive than hydroelectric. Power costs have doubled in the past year, throwing Uganda’s 28 million people – annual per-capita income $280 – into financial turmoil.
Ugandan Energy Minister Simon D'Ujanga said the government decided it was "...better to have expensive power than to have darkness." The Green vision of secure, cheap, clean, hydroelectric power is thus shown to be far more insecure and unpredictable than first thought. African leaders have long complained that they can't run factories with solar panels and windmills. Now Uganda has found that it can't depend on hydroelectric power, either.
For decades, African nations – lacking a technology base – could not develop, industrially. Now that some can do so, they find the West opposing fossil fuels with political hype about global warming. But critics of the radical global warming movement say the West’s dirty secret is that efforts to keep Africa primitive are not truly motivated by climate-warming concerns, but by the hypocritical desire to restrain economic competition from Africa. One British newsman denounced as “despicable” the West’s efforts to keep Africans “cooking over smoky fires of dried buffalo shit” when they could be building modern countries with healthy, disease-free lifestyles.
Africa has staggering energy resources. Official estimates put oil reserves in Africa’s top 20 countries at 975 billion barrels and natural gas reserves at 484 trillion cubic feet. A dynamic Africa, with 711 million hungry people working for a future, would be a serious threat to European nations with declining populations, stagnant economies and high unemployment. All Africa needs now is western engineers and technicians to help develop its resources and build its industrial base. Some analysts say Africa could be the late-21st century’s “China”.
This observer predicts that industrialized nations will jostle each other in a mad “gold rush” to send engineers and technicians to help African nations develop their fossil fuels and build their industry. In return, the sending nations will hope to share Africa’s energy reserves. It could be one of the greatest developmental booms in history – perhaps even greater than America’s industrial boom of the late nineteenth century.
But returning to “green” power…
Green electricity's problems go beyond unpredictable water supplies. Wind-generated power is now under attack from environmentalists who claim that windmills destroy great numbers of birds. This objection dovetails nicely with complaints by residents that windmill farms spoil the natural beauty of locales where they are installed. A windmill farm planned for Nantucket Sound, off the coast of tony Martha's Vinyard, drew protests from Senator Edward Kennedy, whose family's summer home sits on that coast. Should the project be built, the Kennedys' revised sea-view would include the windmills' high towers - installed in the Bay. Windmills sound romatic, but only if they can be "bird-friendly" and located in someone else's backyard (or bay)
Historically, wind-power has had limited success because continuous winds aren’t guaranteed. Windmills are fine when the wind blows, but power must be used when generated; it can’t be stored. Calm periods must be backed up by reliable generation technology. Many engineers doubt if wind-generation – requiring expensive windmills, plus backup generators – can ever compete with fuel-powered generators alone. The devil is always in the details.
Politicians pressing for wind- and water-generated power would yell bloody murder if we had to endure the kind of blackouts Uganda has. Those "alternate" sources of power will never be acceptable because they are too unreliable and have too many other disadvantages. For decades many people have also looked longingly at the ocean's ceaseless motion as a potential source of limitless energy. But the technology to harness it has yet to be developed. It is still a dream.
America’s energy reality is significant undeveloped oil reserves off its coasts and in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). Politicians pandering to green activists refuse to permit their development. The oil is just sitting there, waiting for someone to take it. Indeed, China is now helping Cuba drill 100 miles off Florida. They’ll get the oil, but we’ll be environmentally righteous. (Grandpa used to say stupidity like this has to be learned. Nobody is born that dumb.)
Environmental activists have also blocked nuclear power for electricity-generation, although it is a safe, cheap, emissions-free source of power. France - a great preacher of environmental purity- gets 78% of its electricity from nuclear power plants. If they can do it, why can't we?
We need to quit playing politics with energy and let technical and business people work on the 21st century's solutions. Romanticism will not cut it in the real world. Uganda is learning that the hard way. Maybe we can learn something here, too.
(1) See Miss Pownall's article at - http://www.washingtontimes.com/article/20070628/FOREIGN/106280038/1003