Robert F Kennedy doesn’t like coal mountaintop removal mining, but he doesn’t like wind either

I saw this guest blog post by Robert F Kennedy on the official Google blog today about mountaintop coal mining and how it devastates the environment.

I agree with his assessment of mountaintop removal coal mining.

But I can’t help but wonder where Mr. Kennedy expects our electricity to come from, when he is also one of the biggest NIMBY (not in my backyard) opponents of wind power?

Here are some choices, as explained last year in a Wall Street Journal editorial.

Where does America get its electrical power, the annual four billion megawatt-hours of electricity consumed by our industries, cities, transportation, hospitals, homes and personal needs? Coal plants provide 51% of the nation’s electrical energy; nuclear power 21%, natural gas 16%, oil 3% and renewable resources 9%, most of which is hydropower.

And where do the electrical sector’s carbon dioxide emissions come from? About 82% from burning coal, 13% from natural gas, 3% from petroleum, and none at all from nuclear power plants.

So if additional electrical power were needed in a community, as it is in Delaware’s growing coastal Sussex County, what kind of a power generation facility should be built? Nuclear is politically untenable, especially with a plant across the river, in New Jersey, so two traditional proposals have been submitted, one for a 177-megawatt gas turbine at an existing energy facility, and another for a new 600-megawatt coal-fired plant.

And then came a third proposal: construction off the Delaware coast of 200 wind turbines that would generate 600 megawatts of electrical power.

Safeway, Biodiesel, Recycling and Wind Power

A couple of years back a bunch of us stood in the street and watched the book store of the local university burn to the ground in the middle of the night. The next day the only things left were the once familiar walls of a former Safeway grocery store filled to the brim with charred rubble. Try as they might the distinctive look of the exterior walls that every Safeway in the area always had could not be hidden.

I grew up thinking that Safeway was a synonym for grocery store; I can’t honestly remember going to any other until Safeway pulled up stakes and left Texas. The familiar buildings still stand all across my home town. So I was glad to hear that the company I grew up with is one of the most environmentally conscious out there; even though they abandoned us.

Recently Safeway switched to using B20 Biodiesel for all of the 600+ trucks in its California and Arizona Fleet. The fuel is produced from domestically grown Virgin soybean oil. By switching in these two states alone almost 70 percent of their diesel consumption is biodiesel; Co2 output is reduced by 23 metric tons per year.

In addition, Safeway opened their first solar powered grocery store in September; the first of 23 such stores. The companies 295 fuel stations have been powered by wind energy since 2005; making Safeway the largest purchaser of green energy in California.

And if that wasn’t enough, Safeway stores recycle much of their waste diverting over 85 percent of their solid waste away from landfills. That’s over half a million tons of recyclables in 2006 alone. It would be interesting to see how other grocery stores stack up.

Companies work to solve challenge of storing solar, wind energy for later

One of the biggest criticisms of renewable energy sources like solar and wind is that you can only get them when the sun is shining or when the wind is blowing, and that doesn’t meet the always-ready needs of our modern world.

But reports that several different companies are developing technologies that will store sun and wind power for later, so that it can be released on the electrical grid when it is needed most.

Earlier this month, Australian firm Cleantech Ventures made a “significant investment” in Smart Storage Pty to commercialize a hybrid battery for off-grid storage. The “ultrabattery” technology stems from research at Australia’s national science agency.

Flywheels from companies like Beacon Power have been approved by regulators for maintaining a steady frequency over the grid as power demand fluctuates minute to minute. The flywheels–essentially a huge rotating cylinder–are designed to absorb energy when the grid is making excess energy and feed the energy back to meet shortfalls in supply.

For several hours of storage, utilities are testing different battery technologies. Each of these techniques has different purposes and drawbacks but are getting serious consideration, say experts.

“There’s been more going on in energy storage in the last six months than in decades (prior),” said Garth Corey, an electrical storage consultant and former Sandia National Labs scientist. “There are true benefits, but we haven’t had the tools to do it.”