April 3, 2007

Can anyone see the damn light?

INTEROFFICE MEMOTO: ALL LEO STAFFERSFROM: STEPHEN GEORGE, THE CITY DESKRE: WE NEED NEW LIGHT BULBSIllustration by Brian OrmsColleagues, As you may know, there is inarguable scientific consensus that global warming — also commonly referred to as climate change, probably by the same people who call sex “intercourse” — is a real and actual problem with serious human and environmental consequences. Just this morning I read that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of scientists representing a bunch of different countries, is issuing a new report Friday suggesting that global warming will affect crop growth worldwide and lead to the starvation and brutal death of thousands, if not millions, of people whose food is not a series of overcomplicated prepackaged chemistry experiments based largely on a single crop (corn). Also, you may realize that the most polluting thing a human being can do, short of financing a coal-fired power plant, is drive a car. We’re sucking down 85 million gallons of the sweet nectar every day on this planet, and spewing out millions of pounds of carbon and other heat-trapping gases, too. I’m not an unreasonable man, so I’m not going to ask you to stop driving to work every day. In fact, I won’t even ask that you trade in your 13-miles-to-the-gallon SUV for something a little less consumptive, because it’s clear you need all that space for, uh, well, whatever. Maybe you’re a human trafficker, which is illegal now in Kentucky, so heads up. We’re all patriots here, right? So, on behalf of the state of Kentucky, which considers itself a leader in alternative energies, I’m asking you to turn off the lights. Seriously folks, we have floor-to-ceiling windows in the front of the building. My desk sits right next to one, and I’m all too aware of the power of natural light. The other morning, my hands were dumping so much sweat it shorted out my keyboard, all because of that goddamn sun. It’s bright, but it’s hot! I’m hearing a lot about these new compact fluorescent light bulbs, which we should definitely get into if we want to do our part, like the governor’s office says we should. The EPA says one bulb in every home in America would save enough energy in a year to power more than 2.5 million homes and prevent the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from 800,000 cars. Then you can drive without your liberal friends constantly reminding you how much you’re contributing to our impending environmental doom. “Dude,” you can say, “I’ve got the light bulbs. Go ride a bike.” And maybe your liberal friend will buy a one of these new light bulbs and you won’t have to worry about global warming that night at the bar. I’m sorry if I’m bringing this all up at a bad time for you. It’s just that something profound happened to me last week — I guess you could call it life changing or monumental. I decided I must write to you about it. I had a conversation about energy with an oil company. Not only an oil company, but the world’s third largest one, ConocoPhillips. And not only ConocoPhillips, but the executive director of Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s Office of Energy Policy, too.We all talked for an hour and a half Thursday night at the Galt House. There were probably 150 other people there too, going on about the future of energy and how it’s all about these alternative fuels. It’s an exciting subject right now, folks. Companies like Shell and ConocoPhillips are getting green, and they’re touring the country to tell people about it. On bikes! (LOL! You’re not seriously that gullible, right?) They’ve decided to hit the road because, as Phil Frederickson — the oil company’s executive vice president of planning, strategy and corporate affairs — told me in an interview in a small side room at the Galt House a few hours before the big conversation, people don’t really understand energy issues. They miss the point when it comes to talking about oil, gas and alternative fuels: Nothing will ever replace oil. Not even coal. Rather, we need to burn the oil and coal — there is convincing research out there that we can simply bury the harmful carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, like burying trash in landfills, which as you probably know has never caused any problems — to make fuels like ethanol so we don’t have to use oil and coal. It’s pretty simple math, you bunch of jackasses. So companies like ConocoPhillips and Shell, which was here earlier this year, are doing people a favor by taking time out of their busy schedules of reinvesting their record profits into developing alt fuels and 35-city PR tours to come to places like Louisville and tell us what’s up. Don’t worry, folks: I thanked him for all of us. Phil was on this panel talking to me about energy, and so was this guy Lou Burke, the manager of alternative energy and programs for ConocoPhillips. He definitely knew what he was talking about. Every time somebody asked a specific question about ethanol or coal or biodiesel, or maybe even something impolite like why won’t these companies push for a meaningful rise in federal miles-per-gallon standards for automakers, he’d just start dropping all kinds of facts and figures really quickly. It was hard to follow, but obviously he knows his stuff. It was kinda funny — when somebody would try to make a point like my friend Jackie Greene did, about how important it should’ve been for the panel to feature a representative of “human power” like Jackie is for bicycling, Lou’s face would crinkle up and he’d get this little smirk, like Jackie was full of shit or something. It didn’t take long to realize this guy is legit. There was also Talina Matthews, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Policy, who offered details about how Kentucky really is progressive when it comes to alt fuels, even though it doesn’t look that way. She has a Ph.D. in economics and is really into that angle of energy, which is good because the state government shouldn’t have to worry about subsidizing the commercialization of alt fuels — that’s a market-driven thing that companies like ConocoPhillips should be doing (whoa, what a coincidence!). She’s part of Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s attempt to inform Kentuckians that he really means it when he says he’s into preserving the environment, which is why he created the GOEP in the first place. Talina told us that Kentucky has three basic energy priorities, which I’ll expound on briefly:1. Maintain Kentucky’s low-cost energy: The state has the lowest electricity prices in the country.2. Responsibly develop Kentucky’s energy resources: The GOEP has given out $838,833 in research and development seed grants and $464,423 in matching funds — the administration isn’t really into subsidizing attempts to actually help move units, which may explain why there’s one biodiesel facility in the state and two ethanol plants.3. Preserve Kentucky’s commitment to environmental quality: 95 percent of the energy we use in Kentucky is generated by coal-fired power plants, according to the Federal Energy Information Administration, and none of those plants employ the most up-to-date environmental protections. Also, the state lost a bid last year for a FutureGen zero emissions coal plant, offering (pathetically) a single potential plant site statewide. Talina even admitted, laughing a little, that these three things seem to be in direct conflict with one another. The whole crowd let out a collective moan on that one. For a second there it was awkward. I actually found this quote from a November story in The Courier-Journal that addressees this conflict: “The economic impact of taking an action as drastic as a Illustration by Brian Orms limit is higher here than in states that do not use the degree of fossil fuels as we do,” Talina said. You’ve gotta pick one, and Kentucky picks … profits! She talked a lot about coal — about the state funding research initiatives for clean coal technologies like gasification or coal-to-liquid technology, which got a big appropriation recently thanks to the good Sen. Jim Bunning. When she talked about how important coal is to Kentucky, I think I glimpsed a tear in Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Caylor’s eye, but it may’ve just been allergies — things get a little smoggy down there by I-64 this time of year. Speaking of, mass transit came up, too: Talina said there’s no public demand for it so it’s not going to happen, and that when people live 50 miles away from their jobs, they simply must drive. I guess she’s never been to Washington, D.C., where the Metro runs way out into the Virginia suburbs, which is actually where most people who work in D.C. live. Really, the whole point of that kind of mass transit, at least in a place like Louisville, would be to reduce the strain on the bridges, Spaghetti Junction and I-65 by giving the mass quantities of people who come downtown to work every day the option of not clogging up all the roads (and air) with cars. Maybe this was her first time here. She mentioned House Bill 5 and the waterheads in the General Assembly who let it die during this session, too. That one’s a real shame: Democrat Rocky Adkins put forth this bill that would’ve required the state to develop new energy conservation strategies and expand Kentucky’s coal incentive tax credits to include alt fuels and renewable energy initiatives, among several other things. It didn’t pass the Senate. Damn those lawmakers! It’s their fault Kentucky’s not energy-progressive! I met some cool people, too, like this guy who might’ve found a new way to use organic waste to fuel a bio-refinery. He said he doubts he’ll open up shop in Kentucky, though, because state government doesn’t give much incentive for new enviro-business. Wonder what that’s all about. Anyway, let’s at least think about those new light bulbs. Talina said it’s really the consumer’s fault that Kentucky’s not further along, that we’re the ones who need to conserve and show the private sector we’re demanding something different. State government just doesn’t respond to such demands. Until next time, I remain … SG Contact the writer at sgeorge@leoweekly.com