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Obama also pushes clean energy

February 8, 2012

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Last week’s column presented concerns about President Barack Obama’s plans to increase our reliance on national sources of oil and natural gas. He also presented a strong argument for the continued development of the American clean energy economy by speaking out for renewable energy and efficiency.

Obama declared: “Our three-year partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. … Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has doubled. And thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.”

He also indicated, “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here,” and called for “passing clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.” He seeks congressional support for a clean-energy standard that would create a market for innovation. Such a standard has been introduced numerous times and never gained congressional approval.

He plans to allow the development of clean energy on public land to power 3 million homes. Efforts to develop renewable energy projects on public lands have been stymied by objections of communities where the facilities would be located. To achieve his objective, the president has directed the Department of Interior to issue permits for renewable energy generating facilities.

Using the Department of Defense to stimulate innovation is a common means of demonstrating the practical applications of technology and creating an awareness of the technology’s benefits to society. The Navy is purchasing clean energy capacity to power a quarter million homes a year.

With 25 million acres and a variety of bases under Pentagon control, the sites are already disturbed. They offer numerous opportunities for renewable energy installations while lowering operating costs and reducing their vulnerability to energy interruptions. They also expand the market for renewables.

Tax breaks for firms that buy natural gas-powered trucks is seen as a means to help curtail oil use. It is a plan T. Boone Pickens has been promoting for years and includes having a representative of his firm discussing such prospects with landfill operators in the Rockford area.

Other heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and delivery vehicles could also be gas powered. Powering vehicles with natural gas gained market acceptance during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Some local school district buses ran on natural gas, as did trucks, vans and individual cars. The high cost of developing refueling stations limited their market acceptance to centralized facilities.

We saw numerous variations of gas-powered vehicles and electric vehicles when we participated in the International Vehicle Emissions Conferences. One truck was powered with a mixture of natural gas and 15 percent hydrogen, referred to as hythane. Its claim to fame was to dramatically reduce emissions.

Others have pointed out that it would be more efficient to burn the natural gas in modern combined cycle gas turbines and produce electricity that could then power electric vehicles.

Obama made a strong case for renewable energy based on reinforcing and expanding the existing electrical grid. Yet, some fear the low cost of natural gas will undermine the push for renewable energy.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Feb. 8-14, 2012, issue

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