There are several factors to consider in charting our course for energy production and use:
1. Disregarding global warming, how will our choices impact the long-term and short-term economy of Virginia and the nation?
2. How will our health and safety be impacted?
3. How well will our investments function into the future?
4. What kind of jobs will be produced for Virginians?
5. How will global warming be impacted?
And here are our basic choices for augmentation:
A. Fracking and the MVP and ACP pipelines.
1. The fracking process currently pumps huge quantities of water laced with undisclosed chemicals into the ground to break up the shale to release the oil or gas. Most of this water combination comes back up to the surface but is later "disposed" of by pumping it back into the ground elsewhere. There have been ruined water supplies but we are ignoring them. The problems caused in the Flint Michigan fiasco were extremely expensive, but they are repairable by replacing a lot of pipes. The impact of destroying a water supply with no repair options would be true economic disaster. We are sitting on top of these water time-bombs now; creating more is insane.
The pipelines are destroying our tourist value. But they are also creating irreparable erosion problems into our water supplies. While the demand for natural gas has been diminishing, the gas sold abroad will make a lot of money for somebody and maybe some will trickle down. But the fracked gas is expected to run out in twenty years, all possible trickling will stop, the erosion until the dirt is washed down to bedrock.
2. The fracked gas will not have odor added to it because it is primarily for export. So as leaks occur, so long as there is no explosion, we will breath this poisonous gas. Un-noticed leaks will also lead to bigger explosions. The recent explosion in West Virginia, from a slightly small but new pipeline of similar construction to MVP and ACP was big enough to remove the town of Newport. And that was not built in a sponge of karst that could store more gas for a bigger explosion.
3. Our investments will be worthless in about twenty years when the gas is depleted, but our water clean-up costs and loss of quality of life will extend very far into the future. Also equipment built to use this gas will also be greatly devalued or even worthless.
4. Fracking and pipeline construction are both done by out-of-state workers. These workers are generally trying to send some money home and also generally working long hours, so they don't fund restaurants and hotels the way tourists do. There will be a small influx of workers staying on location in Virginia.
5. While methane produces less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels because the molecules have a higher ratio of hydrogen to carbon atoms, it is a hydrocarbon like all the fossil fuels and process sizable quantities of carbon dioxide. And the production and transport comes with many unavoidable releases and leaks. And methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide natural gas get bad marks for global warming along with all the other fossil fuels.
B. Carbon Sequestration to facilitate fossil-fuel use.
We have talked about sequestering Carbon dioxide for many years and there is no reason to suspect that a way will actually be found. All the ways being explored are actually temporary. They are certainly not limitless, like turning it into fossil fuel.
C. Nuclear Power has two components: mining uranium and operating reactors. Mining uranium leaves vast amounts of radioactive tailings at the mine site. The proposed mine site in Virginia is in an area that floods and could contaminate the water supplies of Norfolk and Hampton Roads. In the timeframe of civilization, and even life on earth, the radioactivity of such a leak would be forever. And to prevent such a leak in the future, the tailings would have to be maintained forever. However little the cost per year, when you multiply by forever, the cost of mining Virginia's uranium load is not economical. And the risk to human health is not defendable.
No nuclear-power-plant waste in the world has been disposed of. There is no way to dispose of it except launch it to the sun. We can sequester ourselves from it today but all that has been produced is a health risk to all future generations.
Nuclear plant operation poses unknown risks. Germany is discontinuing its nuclear program because they don't think they will ever be able to do it safely, even with uranium mined elsewhere.
D. Inland and offshore wind turbines.
1. The General Electric plant in Salem, VA manufactures wind turbines. A sizable order would invigorate that factory and produce real jobs in Virginia with a Virginia work force and a full stratum of job skills and salaries. Installing wind turbines would also create real jobs. And there will be continuing careers in maintaining them. While many Americans who have not lived near them find them visually offensive, they have not negatively impacted the tourism industries of Europe. And the offshore sites, where the wind is more constant, would not offend anyone. They would not placate the fossil-fuel lobby, but they would be a boon to the economy of Virginia. Wind energy does not produce acid rain which diminishes our timber production or lead, mercury and arsenic which diminishes our fishing industry as well as poisoning us.
2. Wind power has no negative health and safety impacts.
3. Wind turbines age well. When they wear out they do not have the shutdown costs nuclear and combustion plants. The fracked gas or coal that supplies them will not run out leaving them obsolete. Wind turbines are good long-term, as well as short-term investments.
4. The jobs created for Virginians are detailed in D1.
5. Wind turbines do not release carbon dioxide. We currently have more carbon dioxide in the air and the earth will continue to warm until we reduce it, The use of wind turbines will reduce the rate that the planet is warming, giving us more time to construct flood mitigation. Flooding in the Hampton Roads area is already starting to be an economic disaster. The slower we can bring it on, the better we will be able to accommodate it.
1. Solar panels are not made in Virginia, but we should be making them. Installation of home systems is currently a growing industry. They compliment the power companies well because they produce the most power on the hot, sunny days when the power companies have trouble meeting capacity needs. That saves the power companies from increasing capacity which is only scarce at these times. When solar provides a larger portion of our total energy, it will be used to heat home cisterns of water during winter days which will keep us warm at night. Like wind energy, solar power does not produce acid rain which diminishes our timber production or lead, mercury and arsenic which diminishes our fishing industry as well as poisoning us.
2. Like wind. solar power has no negative health and safety impacts.
3. Solar panels are good investments. The panels themselves and the electronic controllers are mature technologies that have become very price-worthy and have long lifetimes. And like wind, they will never be forced into obsolescence by the shortage of a consumable such as uranium and fossil fuels. Like wind, there is no ongoing expense for consumables. The energy they use is free.
4. Solar panels provide installation jobs and maintainence jobs which are all local
5. Like wind turbines, solar panels do not release carbon dioxide. We currently have more carbon dioxide in the air and the earth will continue to warm until we reduce it, The use of wind turbines will reduce the rate that the planet is warming, giving us more time to construct flood mitigation. Flooding in the Hampton Roads area is already starting to be an economic disaster. The slower we can bring it on, the better we will be able to accommodate it.
F. Continuing to burn fossil fuels.
1. The fossil fuels are consumables that are an ongoing expense. The price of these consumables fluctuates with the market and availability.
The price of these consumables tends to rise as supplies diminish. Common assumptions and estimates are that our supply of gas from fracking will expire in about twenty years. Coal production is already in steep decline. That makes it difficult to predict the long-term financial impact of these energy supplies. But none of them provide opportunities for Virginia to build new industries on new technologies. None of them will position us to have a vibrant energy industry when the fossil fuels run out. Coal generates a continual cost of cleaning up fly-ash pits which we sometimes ignore for periods, but our economy eventually has to pay when they threaten our clean waters. The pollution costs are often hidden or disguised like the acid rain which weakens the trees that succumb to insect infestation and is paid for by the timber industry. None the less, these pollution costs are paid for out of the economy of Virginia.
2. The burning of all fossil fuels produces byproducts which are poisonous pollution. The sulfur and nitrogen oxides which produce acid rain are also not good for our health. Natural gas results in poisonous methane being released during the mining and the transporting and consumption phases. Natural gas pipelines also suffer explosions which seem to be becoming more frequent as well as larger as the newer pipelines are bigger. Coal mining is becoming safer as miners get replaced by machines but the economic costs of mountain top removal is being hidden when does not lessen the impacts on the economy.
3. All fossil fuel power plants have a limited life because the fuel supplies are running out or becoming more expensive. At that point the resource that we paid for becomes a liability which needs to be decommissioned.
4. Fossil fuels do nothing to train a work force for future jobs.
5. All the fossil fuels are global warming polluters. Natural gas produces less carbon dioxide for the same energy produced, but because methane is released throughout the whole process, and because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, natural gas is the worst global warming of the fossil fuels.
How will global warming be impacted?
Conservation is the winner on all fronts. It creates jobs, does not require additional maintenance, has no health impacts, make no pollution and no global warming.