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Huffing and puffing


Paul Wellman May 11th, 2011

Regarding the Gazette’s “Green Issue” on April 20, I appreciated the articles highlighting environmental news in this edition.

However, in Clifton Adcock’s article (“Last call for ethanol?), I was surprised to see no mention of the real reason this should be the last call for ethanol: It is a bad idea altogether.

The costs to produce ethanol are high. Rising food costs worldwide is one big cause. Using land suited for food crops to produce fuel makes no sense. What happens if you have a drought? It also pollutes the atmosphere more than gasoline, while bringing down fuel economy by as much as 25 percent.

I would like to see Clifton dig just a bit deeper in the sad story of the government push to ram ethanol down our throats since the 1970s.

I must comment on another Adcock article (“Historic green,” April 20, Gazette). A government grant has been used by Oklahoma City to hire not one, but two Nashville, Tenn., firms to consult on ways to “green up” its historic preservation guidelines. In the article, I was edified by Sheila Dial-Barton of EOA Architects (one of the two firms) about how we might go about this: We can install solar panels. Wow, I would have never thought of that one.

But wait: Are they going to let you put those weird-looking panels on your historic property? Use LED lighting. I can get that advice at the local hardware store. Regarding the suggestion to use double-pane windows: Does anyone even sell single-pane windows anymore?

And then I got the out-of-the-box information I was hoping for: We can “use straw for insulation material”! I am assuming that Sheila has not read the great construction manual, “The Three Little Pigs.” I would not buy a historic building in Tennessee if they are stuffing them with straw! This cracks me up. OKC couldn’t find a couple of local firms that were up to this job? Maybe have some real out-of-the-box ideas that would actually help make OKC’s historic preservation guidelines a model for the rest of the country? I bet they could. As energy costs spiral, it is going to be imperative to have informed conversation about ways to mitigate the effects. Again, I applaud your efforts to spark that conversation. I hope to see much more.

—Paul Wellman
Oklahoma City
Wellman is owner of GreenEarth Structures.

 
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05.11.2011 at 01:14 Reply

  That 3 little pigs comment is priceless!  Building a roof from straw might seem like a nice idea, but it's a little different if your shoving it in an attic.  My grandfather was a farmer, and explained that you never put wet hay in a loft.  I realize that no one would put wet hay in their attic, but if their roof leaked enough, this creates conditions perfect for a house fire.  So I'll stick with the fire resistent alternative.

 

   Anyway, I agree that the ethanol debate isn't being properly executed.  With food prices on the rise, we must stop using corn based ethanol.  If we are to continue down that path we need to switch to other cellulose crops which do not require pesticides.  Crops like switchgrass which can grow in many different climate zones, and kudzu which grows alarmingly fast are perfect for this.  The MPG drop from ethanol is not a big deal so long as the fuel is cheap enough to match the value of regular gas at a higher price.  That might mean re-fueling a little more, but if the cost is the same or less, why not?  Also, that 25% statistic is for E-85, not the common blended E-10 that many of us use.  That's important to mention so consumers don't get confused.  The MPG from E-10 and pure Gasoline is negledgable.

 

  Another concept that many people should consider is change in driving habits.  Hypermiling involves properly pacing your car to meet stop lights, and putting the car into neutral on downgrades.  More extreme hypermilers will refuse to run the AC, and completely turn off the engine to coast whenever possible.  Those latter activities are very dangerous, but the former are very easy.  Having experimented with this, I added 30 miles to an average tank of gas!  Don't forget to put the max pressure in your tires as well.

  The energy revolution I would love to see implemented in Oklahoma is that of small vertical axis wind turbines.  Deploying these on thousands of homes can help give us real energy independence.  Where situations for a power outage would exist, there would still be many homes and business which would be able to function without interruption.  The added benefit will be the safety of the "grid".  High tension lines get hot during peak energy usage.  This causes them to sag, it's also what can cause them to contact a grounding source like a tree and blackout entire neighborhoods.  Or in the case of the 2003 blackout, it can be lights out for a huge section of the country.  By putting as many homes on the grid with their own wind and/or solar arrays, we can help prevent blackouts, and in a more extreme point of view, shield us from being susceptable to a terrorist attack on our power plants.

 

  Green technologies are the future, I just can't wrap my mind around the overwheling resistance to them.  Every person on this planet has the common sense to know that you cannot pump oil and natural gas forever.  We need to build up the infrastructure to survive in a post fossile fuel world.  By refusing to equip ourselves for this inevitability we only exaggerate our ignarance.

 

  Thankfully there are industries which are catching on.  The company I work for installed a lighting system at a cost of more than 1 million dollars which will pay for itself in 1.5 years.  After that, it's all profit.  If we can just get more people to realize that spending more up front will pay off in the long run, we might be able to save ourselves from our dependence on environmentally devastating energy sources.

 

It's important to remember that doing the right thing isn't always easy.  But doing the right thing will always be rewarded.

 

 
 
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