The Times In Error

by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, August 11, 2010 2 Comment(s)

The newspaper carrier made a mistake this morning and dropped off a copy of The New York Times instead of one of our indigenous papers. We have decided not to sue because without that error, we would not have seen the front page piece on Portugal’s five year conversion from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. The statistics are impressive. This year almost 45 percent of that country’s energy will come from a combination of renewable sources. That compares with 17 percent just five years ago. More to the point, it compares with just 4.3 percent in the U.S. That excludes large hydropower, which we guess means the Hoover Dam and such modern marvels.

Now, we have not been to Portugal, but never thought of it and other small European countries as models of modern marvels. And yet this reduction of dependence on coal and oil is a creative combination of several renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and hydro – the latter even involving ocean waves. They even developed a combination of wind and hydropower, using windmills to pump water uphill at night and then it rush down to generate electricity by day, when demand is greatest.

The Times reported that it just isn’t Portugal making us look third worldly. It quoted a report which said by 2025, Great Britain, Denmark and Ireland will also generate 40 percent of their power through renewable sources. With its usual thoroughness, the Times got into the economics of these energy efforts, pointing out that most of the countries leading the way are forced to by lack of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. These developments take on even greater importance with the advent of electric cars, which would have a renewable source of juice and eventually greatly reduce the use of oil for transportation, at the same time providing an urgent environmental benefit.

This story might not have made such an impression a year ago, but after the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the damage to the environment, which will only be known in coming years, coupled with the near panic as oil spread to our Panhandle beaches and threatened to reach the Gulf Stream, the urgency to alter our energy course seems compelling. Portugal speeds ahead; the U.S. moves glacially. Brazil got off the dime during the first oil crisis in the 1970s when it began to develop its ethanol industry. Today it leads the world in biofuels. It is one the most energy self-sufficient countries, with enough left over to be an important exporter of that nature-made fuel.

Last year Gulfstream Media’s Treasure Coast magazines, in a story on the Everglades restoration through the U.S. Sugar Corp. purchase, noted a report that a company specializing in ethanol technology was talking to U.S. Sugar about a major facility in the Okeechobee area. A la Brazil, it would use sugar cane to produce the fuel more cheaply than from other crops. We envisioned an “ethanol prairie” of plants creating good-paying technology jobs in an area that could use them, at the same time providing a very convenient source of fuel for Florida. Not long ago, we made some calls to see how the idea was progressing. A spokesman said there was nothing new to report. That sounds as if nothing is happening.

Maybe the country that put a man on the moon needs to import a few good men from Portugal.


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