The great potential of Atlantic offshore wind

Life never ceases to amaze me.  On Sunday, a multi-millionaire businessman, maker of the Segway motorized scooters died while riding one of his scooters – he plunged 80 feet over a limestone cliff into a river.  Jimi Heselden, a former miner, died at the age of 62, with a fortune estimated at $263 Million.  He was riding one of the Segway X2 offroad scooters, near his home. This reminds me that no matter how rich or powerful, no matter how permanent things seem, everything is impermanent.

If you think that is crazy, then check this out.  After the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the recent explosion on another oil rig, we still look to the Oceans for oil reserves.  However, the environmental group Oceana just released a report showing that offshore wind development on our Atlantic coast has more capacity and is more cost effective than drilling for oil reserves:

“On the Atlantic coast, an area targeted for expansion of oil and gas activities, offshore wind can generate nearly 30% more electricity than offshore oil and gas resources combined. In addition, wind development would cost about $36 billion less than offshore oil and gas production combined, while creating about three times as many jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuel production. Based on conservative assumptions for offshore wind and generous assumptions for offshore oil and natural gas, this study found that by investing in offshore wind on the East Coast, rather than offshore oil and gas, Americans would get more energy for less money while protecting our oceans.”

The study looks at 11 states on the Eastern seaboard, and examines how they make power now, and the capacity for offshore development.   The beauty of offshore wind is that capacity sits next to major population centers along the East Coast.  As this study shows, offshore wind can produce much of our electricity load:

“In addition to these obvious benefits, offshore wind potential is best where population is largely focused, and could power much of the East Coast. Delaware, Massachusetts and North Carolina could generate enough electricity from offshore wind to equal current electricity generation. Other East Coast states such as New Jersey, Virginia and South Carolina could supply 92%, 83% and 64% of their current electricity generation with offshore wind, respectively.”

Why aren’t we shifting to this outstanding resource?  Right now in Rhode Island, an offshore wind development is in the works that will provide much needed jobs, as well as clean energy.  However, some Rhode Island ratepayers still resist because they want to enjoy subsidized fossil power that doesn’t account for externalities like health costs and greenhouse gas emissions.  Currently, the development is tied up in Court.  The state utility commission finally approved the deal in August but the Attorney General appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court.

In any rate it seems high time to start development of offshore wind.  As this timely report shows, wind power is more cost effective and more plentiful than oil reserves on the Atlantic Coast, and doesn’t have the costly externalities of fossil fuels.  Our grandchildren will thank us.


Stephen Colbert testifies before Congress on immigration

Stephen Colbert testified before a Congressional hearing, titled “Protecting America’s Harvest.”  Colbert recently participated in the United Farm Workers’ Take Our Jobs campaign, where he spent a day picking beans and packing corn with migrant laborers.  This is the latest example of Colbert’s positive work on behalf of his fellow Americans.  He was recently recognized by General Petraeus for his numerous efforts on behalf of American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

When asked by Rep. Judy Chu why he is interested in helping raise awareness about migrant workers, Colbert responded, “I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and [migrant workers] seem like one of the least powerful people in the United States.  Migrant workers come and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result, and yet we still invite them to come here, and yet ask them to leave.  That’s an interesting contradiction to me; you know, ‘Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers.” These seem like the least of our brothers, right now.  A lot of people are least brothers, because of the economy right now, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them, or diminish anything like that, but migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.”

The campaign by the UFW is fascinating, that despite high unemployment, Stephen Colbert was only the 16th American to accept a job as a migrant laborer.  Those who would only restrict immigration might want to reconsider who picks their vegetables.  In fact, finding a solution that would document as many illegal immigrants as possible, and provide them a path to citizenship, seems to be the most humane solution for both the migrant laborers and for Americans concerned about runaway illegal immigration.  After all, Americans have not leapt at the UFW’s invitation to replace these migrant laborers.  In fact, there seem to be just as many invitation signals as there are restrictions, so at the end of the day, efforts to enforce current immigration laws are half-faced at best.


A new look for the fall

In A Future Age would like to thank its loyal readers – we hope you enjoy the new redesign.  Our staff is celebrating in style!


Mr. Stewart goes to Washington

Great political satire is a beautiful thing.  The upcoming and competing rallies on the National Mall, by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, capture the zeitgeist of our times.  Stewart calls for those who think Hitler mustaches are out of style to descend on our Nation’s capital for the Rally to Restore Sanity:

“We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles. Are you one of those people? Excellent. Then we’d like you to join us in Washington, DC on October 30 — a date of no significance whatsoever — at the Daily Show’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.”

Brilliant.  In today’s 24-hour media culture, Stewart has often been outdone in artifice by the actual “Fair and Balanced” and “Trustworthy” news media that he so successfully critiques.  This rally shines a satirical light on the movements, funded by billionaires and international corporate titans, but Of the People, of course.   Stephen Colbert comes from the other side, in his March to Keep Fear Alive:

“America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear — forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget — “Reason” is just one letter away from “Treason.” Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance. So join The Rev. Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A. on October 30th for the “March to Keep Fear Alive”™ in Washington DC. Pack an overnight bag with five extra sets of underwear — you’re going to need them. Because, to Restore Truthiness we must always… Shh!!! What’s that sound?! I think there’s someone behind you! Run!”

Glenn Beck is scared.  He warned his audience that Stewart and Colbert were out to “activate the youth.” Apparently he is frightened by the glare of their sharp satire.  Colbert, whose conservative satire was originally aimed at ‘Papa Bear’ Bill O’Reilly, but is now equally focused on ‘Mama Bear’ Sarah Palin, identifies the fear that pervades conservative political messaging.  Inveighing against the terrorists, illegal immigrants, gay marriage, and late term abortions, Republican political campaigns are designed to scare voters – Dick Cheney was always trying to inculcate fear.  The controversy around the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ is a perfect example of that rhetoric.  Remember, you are either with the right-wing Republicans, or you are against them.


LiveScribe Echo rocks; Bloomberg fights for centrists

OK Go is at it again, this time with some furry friends.

After a marvelous weekend in Vermont, I am back to the real world.  In class this weekend, I put to use my new LiveScribe Echo pen in the classroom for the first time.  I bought the pen upon the recommendation of James Fallows in The Atlantic. My problem, and my motivation for purchasing, was that I found it painfully difficult to reconstruct quotes from interviews as ajournalist.  The LiveScribe pen solves that problem deftly.  It records high quality audio and syncs that audio to notes that you make in special notebooks.  It allows me to concentrate during interviews on listening to the source and thinking only about the interview, instead of also worrying about taking down precise notes.

In school, the pen serves a similar function.  In fact, we had a prestigious climate scientist, Dr. Alan Betts, speak to our class for several hours.  The material was complex and the talk went on for two hours, without a break.  However, with the Livescribe pen, I could concentrate fully on Dr. Betts with the knowledge that I could readily access the audio afterwards.  The Livescribe allows you to access certain parts of a long audio recording easily, by tapping the pen in the notebook at a particular point.  My friend Pete asked a great question, and I put ‘Pete q’ down in the notebook; by tapping that location I can readily access the actual audio.

The New York Times magazine featured the Livescribe in their Education and Technology issue this week, and I would agree with some of the conclusions that the author comes up with.  I don’t think this pen necessarily belongs in the hands of every child, but I do think it allows one to take effective notes and concentrate better.  For journalists, that is priceless.  For students, it can be very helpful.

On a final note, it was fascinating to see Michael Bloomberg in Providence to endorse Independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chaffee.  Right now Chaffee is locked in a tight race with Democrat Frank Caprio, and Bloomberg’s endorsement was one of a series intended to strengthen the political center:

“[Bloomberg] is supporting Republicans, Democrats and independents who he says are not bound by rigid ideology and are capable of compromise, qualities he says he fears have become alarmingly rare in American politics… Mr. Bloomberg described the Tea Party movement as a fad, comparing it to the short-lived burst of support for Ross Perot in 1992. The mayor suggested that the fury it had unleashed was not a foundation for leadership. ‘Look, people are angry,’ he said. ‘Their anger is understandable. Washington isn’t working. Government seems to be paralyzed and unable to solve all of our problems. Anger, however, is not a government strategy,’ he said. ‘It’s not a way to govern.’  Mr. Bloomberg said he wanted to see more of the cooperation once displayed by SenatorsOrrin G. Hatch and Edward M. Kennedy. He said that he would not have voted for either of them (“one because he’s too liberal for me, one because he’s too conservative for me”), but added, ‘These two guys who went into the Senate together and were the closest of personal friends for 40 years, they were everything that democracy says a senator should be.’”

I applaud his effort.  Many of my friends who live in New York City endorse Bloomberg’s efforts to make the government there effective in communicating with its citizens and meeting their needs.  I would say that on a national level, his prescription of paralysis is also accurate, and after this election the paralysis is likely to increase.  Unfortunately, we have big problems at our feet, and the defeat of moderate Mike Castle by a Tea Party extremist in the Delaware Republican Senate Primary is emblematic of the unwillingness of our political parties to work together.  In the current environment political gain is more important that solving problems.

We will never be able to solve the difficult problems that are encompassed around entitlement spending and long term structural deficits unless we all work together.  We will never be able to face the threat of anthropogenic climate change, or invest in 21st century renewable energy future.  Business as usual politics, that the Republicans (The Party of No) practiced instead of compromising, will simply not work.  Without compromise and honest dialogue, our nation will be unable to face its problems and will instead suffer from them.  Our decline will be inevitable.


Feeling Vermont

As the weather is turning, like clockwork, school starts again.  After a month off, with travel, friends, and relaxation, it is nice to be back in the swing of things.  This Trimester, I am taking a course on Systems Thinking, on Marketing for a Sustainable Society, and on Caring for the Human Organization.  After I complete this coursework in December, I will be at the halfway point for my degree.  Time sure flies, it seems like only yesterday I was just starting out and meeting my Cohort.  Anyways, in a few hours I will be heading up to Vermont for the weekend.  Tomorrow, I will be kayaking on the Connecticut River.  In A Future Age will be back next Tuesday, have a great weekend everyone.


Sustainable Biodiesel

Last week I attended an event sponsored by the Ocean State Clean Cities program, an stakeholder group sponsored by the Department of Energy.  Experts in diesel technology and biodiesel fuel attended, as well as some local businessmen from Newport Biodiesel and some companies that sell biodiesel for home heating.

I drive a Volkswagon TDI Jetta Wagon, which I purchased for both efficiency and its flexibility.  VW allows the use of B5 Biodiesel under its warranties, so I was curious to learn more about the potential of this fuel.  Newport Biodiesel collects waste oil from restaurants around Rhode Island, and coverts it to biodiesel, meeting the specifications of the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), which provides quality standards for fuels.  Rich Cregar, who has worked on diesel engines and alternative fuels since the 1970s, now teaches at several universities.  He is touring the country on behalf of the DofE to tout the benefits of biodiesel.  This is from an account of the event in ecori.org:

‘According to Cregar, diesel engines are inherently 25 percent more efficient than gasoline engines. By combining hybrid technology with clean diesel technology, he believes we can reduce emissions by more than 40 percent over baseline gasoline automobiles. As a fuel, biodiesel holds great potential. Cregar sees the biggest potential in biodiesel produced from algae. While an acre of soybeans, the leading feedstock of biodiesel, gives 55 gallons of fuel, an acre of algae biomass can give up to 5,000 gallons.  “Gasoline on a full life-cycle basis has a negative energy gradient,” Cregar said.  “You actually lose about 26 percent of the energy you take out of the ground. For every hundred units of energy put into biodiesel, 400 energy units are produced. No other fuel source comes close.”’

Think about it – biodiesel is more efficient as a fuel than any other substance we have now.  We can convert it from waste vegetable oil, make it from soybeans, and soon make it from algae.  We do not need the Fifth Fleet to defend it.  It gives off less than half of the CO2 emissions over its lifecycle than petroleum diesel.  It holds great potential as a fuel in the near term.  Right now in Rhode Island, I can get B20 and B99 at three locations within 25 miles of my house.  Unfortunately, I have to drive to Groton, CT to get B5, which VW allows. However, diesel engines can be designed to handle the higher viscosity of the biodiesel.  Clean diesel technology is a bit more expensive than gasoline engines, but the more diesels that get on the road, the lower those costs will go.  I think biodiesel has a bright future.  As the poster above, which first appeared during WWII and it part of an exhibit at the Minneapolis Public Library, shows, converting waste oil to useful material is nothing new.


Primary Day in Rhode Island

Today, I voted at my local elementary school for the first time since 2002. Until last year, I was a Naval Officer, travelling around the world, and voting absentee. The process of voting in person is different than voting by mail, beyond the mechanics. For one, you can really get a sense of the political dynamic by looking at the supporters in the community. On the way to my polling place, in CD1 of Rhode Island, I saw several young supporters of Dave Segal, the progressive candidate to replace Patrick Kennedy, on the streets with signs. Providence Mayor David Cicilline, the presumptive favorite for both the nomination and victory in November, did not have any supporters out. In fact, no other candidate was represented by supporters on the street. Now, I voted in midafternoon, but what I concluded from this admittedly small sample was that Segal’s grassroots campaign was a success; it garnered the kind of enthusiasm that could draw out young voters. At the end of the day, I expect that Cicilline will prevail, but my vote for Dave Segal felt good. It also felt good to actually cast my vote in person, given all that I have learned about how absentee ballots are (not) counted. Today, I wear my voting sticker with pride.

Political forecaster Nate Silver of 538.com has a mixed outlook for the major parties. He sees a 93.2 percent chance that Democrats, represented by David Cicilline, will hold Rhode Island's First Congressional seat in November. Silver has Cicilline beating Republican John Loughlin, 56 percent to 42 percent. In CD2, Silver forecasts a win today for Republican Bill Clegg over endorsed candidate Mark Zaccaria, but he calls it a 100 percent lock that … Read More

via On Politics


We didn’t see it coming?

I bet you didn’t think Robert Rubin and Lloyd Blankfein could sing this well!  Well, the Gregory Brothers, mavens of Autotune the News, produced this video together with the investigative reporters at ProPublica and the journalists at NPR’s Planet Money.  Their story on the actions of CDO managers at Merryl Lynch, Bank of America, and Citigroup identifies people who actually saw the financial mess coming and made it worse to make a few bucks for themselves.  This story pairs nicely with Michael Lewis’s The Big Short.


Rhode Island could learn something from China

While the Rhode Island politicos bicker about whether and how to construct an offshore windfarm, and Rhode Island ratepayers insist that they prefer diesel generators and coal, externalities and all, China is showing what a clean-tech engine really looks like.

In July, the 102 MW Donghai Bridge Wind Farm went online and transmitted good clean energy to the mainland from the East China Sea.  China was the first, outside Europe, and they are not slowing down.  They have several other farms under construction.  In the next 3 years, they plan to add 514MW of offshore wind energy.  In the next 20 years they plan to add 30GW.  China is actually making this happen – right now.

Wake up Rhode Island!  Do you want 21st Century clean-tech jobs at Quonset Point?   Or, do you hope those textile mills will suddenly come back into style?


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