If I Were President, Episode #4 – Alternative Energy

I have issues with our current alternative energy plans. It mostly focuses on a lot of corn ethanol and a little wind power here and there. For example, they subsizes inefficient ethanol technology. Corn ethanol consumes more energy to produce than it creates. It pollutes because it requires significant fertilizer and pesticide. And it help our dependence on foreign oil because it’s completely targeted at consumer gasoline, which would require 100 times more ethanol to achieve any degree of independence.

First proposal – Sugar cane based ethanol, perfected in Brazil, is much more efficient and effective than corn. Brazil has been using ethanol for automobiles for about 30 years now and can cheaply make ethanol sufficient to power all their cars and even to export it to the USA. (Both National Geographic and The Economist magazine have documented this industry in detail.) Unfortunately, our corn ethanol lobby prevents importing Brazilian ethanol with drastic subsidies. If I were president, I would lift these subsidies. On the one hand, I’d much rather be buying fuel from stable, democratic, and western Brazil than unstable, autocratic, and non-western regions of the world. Plus, it’s much closer and takes less logistics to reach the USA and less carbon-exhaust emissions to transmit to the USA.

In addition, the sugar cane workers are paid well and move from poverty to a solidly middle-class social strata. Because of that, as president, I’d also lift the sugar cane ethanol subsidy from the entire hemisphere so that perpetually impoverished countries in the Carribean, South and Central America could begin to produce ethanol in the same way, working themselves out of poverty.

Second proposal – As president, I would shift the emphasis (at least at first) from consumer gasoline (you and me driving our cars on the daily commute) to industrial uses (trains, planes, and commercial trucks). Imagine how the airline industry would be doing now if it had a stable and relatively local fuel supply that didn’t fluctuate wildly? Imagine how the trucking industry would be doing if they relied on locally produced bio-diesel (made from USA-grown soybeans) or liquid natural gas (as promoted by the Pickens Plan) whose price couldn’t triple in a few months times? And as a starting point, as president I would update the entire US Postal Service fleet and all US government service vehicles to one of these alternative fuels.

Final proposal – electricity needs a major upgrade. As the experts state, it’ll take a patchwork of new technologies to implement, but the starting point includes a major investment in both wind (in the “windy” corridor in the central plains states), solar power (in the sunny southwestern states), and in a major new infrastructure investment in nuclear energy. In addition, most experts have overlooked the benefits of wave energy – it doesn’t depend on sunlight, doesn’t depend on weather, and doesn’t produce hazardous waste. As long as we have a moon that produces tides, we’ll have reliable wave energy. Let’s use it!

Well, that’s it for now…

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