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Letter to the Editor: Beware of Nonsolutions to Energy Crisis

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing Tuesday morning to discuss the ongoing energy crisis in our region, state and country. With “peak oil” perhaps already here, or arriving soon — as more and more respected analysts now agree — this hearing is timely.

While the Community Environmental Council is convinced that peak oil is a very serious problem, we are concerned that the growing awareness of this slow-moving crisis will lead to bad choices regarding solutions. There are many nonsolutions being discussed in the media, including increasing offshore oil drilling, coal power and nuclear power.

Offshore oil drilling is a nonsolution because it won’t help in the short term or long term. It’s all about numbers. Using the best available data, from the federal Energy Information Administration, we can see that opening up all federal waters to offshore drilling would contribute a drop in the bucket to our country’s oil supplies even by 2030 (160,000 additional barrels a day, compared with a projected consumption by 2030 of 24 million barrels per day). Offshore drilling is a distraction from the real solutions.

On the electricity side of the equation, coal and nuclear power are also nonsolutions. New coal plants for California are forbidden by a new law, Senate Bill 1368, unless they capture and store carbon dioxide emissions. This technology is not expected to be viable before 2020, if then, so new coal plants aren’t really an option.

Nuclear power has been extremely expensive in California, and the proposed new round of nuclear plants in the United States promises to be even more expensive. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that company estimates for new plants range from $5 billion to $12 billion — before construction has even begun. This is far more expensive, on an apples-to-apples basis, than the renewable alternatives (nuclear power is not, despite President Bush’s assertions, renewable).

Not to mention, new nuclear plants aren’t allowed under California law until there is an adequate federal waste storage solution, which is not likely to be completed by 2017 or perhaps far later.

So what should we do? Invest heavily in energy efficiency, conservation, sustainable biofuels, next-generation vehicles that run on electricity, and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and wave power. These are all discussed in detail in our regional energy blueprint, available at www.cecsb.org.

These options would allow us to create a long-term sustainable energy infrastructure, more livable communities and save money in the process. They also would have far more short-term effects in our region than the nonsolutions discussed above.

We urge Santa Barbara County residents to come to the board hearing and let your voices be heard on these crucial issues.

Tam Hunt, energy program director
Community Environmental Council

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