Burke’s Editorial On Energy Independence

Note that the editorial below was written in 2013 and some situations have changed since then.

All of this talk about businesses expanding to hire the unemployed is a joke. As a grossly underemployed “99er” (one who has exhausted all of his unemployment) the only shopping I could afford this season was a little I did after Christmas. From what I could see, the stores were still full of stock and in little need for expanded consumer goods production. We are a consumer economy but we can easily produce all the consumer goods we need without full employment. The area’s economy needs some major projects like the construction of the Hanford Reservation or Grand Coulee Dam to lead our economic recovery.

However, my proposal is that we utilize these two legacy projects as a starting point of our climb out of this depression. It is well recognized that the world will have to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. I propose that Washington State lead the Northwest to be the first region to be independent of fossil fuels. Three things must be done eliminate our need for fossil fuels. We must consume less energy, produce more non-fossil energy, and convert fossil fuel uses to being powered by other non-polluting energy sources.

We have been doing a fair job of reducing our consumption of energy. CFL’s (compact fluorescent lights) is one example of our success. We have insulated homes, installed new windows and installed more efficient appliances but this has happened in a haphazard manner. Let’s charge our colleges and universities with the goal of developing packages of energy improvements best suited for each type of home, business, and industry. Vehicle efficiencies are the purview of the federal government, which has been slow to act. However, the state could encourage efficiency with taxes on gas-guzzlers and tax credits for electric and highly efficient vehicles. The Grand Coulee Dam and our other power generating dams provide the Northwest with the majority of our electrical energy. With user efficiencies, and a few wind turbines we could produce enough electricity from renewable non-polluting sources to satisfy our present needs.

My proposal is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and to do this we will need additional sources of non-polluting energy to create other fuels. A Boeing jetliner can’t drag a long extension cord behind it. However, it could burn some fuel produced using the power from a nuclear power plant. Chevrolet is demonstrating an electric car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, but they neglect to say where the hydrogen fuel will come from. Hydrogen does not occur free in nature. It takes energy from some other source to convert it into a usable energy source. Solar, wind, tide, and wave source of energy are all renewable and non-polluting, but they only produce energy under select conditions. On a calm windless night, at slack tide with few waves, we will be powerless. Nuclear power can supply a pollution free, stable base energy supply and Hanford is the perfect place to build nuclear power plants. Combine these sources with hydroelectric energy’s ability to be stored, Washington State can become the carbon emission free powerhouse for the region and the entire West Coast.

Converting current uses of fossil fuel uses to electricity will provide the greatest area for innovation and job creation. We can start by electrifying all the railroads. The Milwaukee Road used to be electrified over the Cascades and Rockies. We should be electrifying all the railroads on the West Coast. Thousands of jobs would be created to install the power distribution system. Local companies like Coast Engine and Equipment can be resurrected to convert diesel-electric locomotives to electric with small diesel engines and batteries to power them away from the overhead lines. We can install overhead power lines over the left lane of freeways. Trucks can be converted to diesel-electric and be powered by electricity on their freeway trips. Imagine the work for Kenworth! We need to return to the concept of the all-electric homes with the addition of rooftop solar.

To costly you say! Overall this program would be funded by the income from energy production and from energy savings. Instead of much of our energy dollar going out of state and country to petroleum companies, the money would stay in state, paying for production and conservation. I realize that a new state commission is an anathema to politicians. But our ongoing unemployment situation is critical and we can’t wait for the Federal Government to do something. Now is the time for the Legislature to create an Energy Independence Commission and get going toward creating jobs and energy independence!

Herbert Burke