Emissions limits — missed opportunities

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

At our second Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Thorstein Sigfusson from Icelandic New Energy explained Iceland’s plan to become the world’s first hydrogen economy. We were later contacted by a young man from Chicago who was promoting the concept of a hydrogen highway for Illinois that included a route from Chicago through Rockford. That fall, we traveled to Iceland, visited with Sigfusson, and met the leading advocate of their hydrogen economy, Bragi Arnason, and the leader of the minority party.

Three hydrogen-powered buses in operation were served by a hydrogen refueling station in Reykjavik. We were told a California energy guru had visited a geothermal electric power station the day before our visit to assess the potential of similar installations in California. The hydrogen highway continues to expand in California, while the effort has died in Illinois.

The head of the minority party welcomed the benefits of climate change, as it presented Iceland with an opportunity to become involved in a new shipping route through the Canadian arctic. He expressed concern that Iceland’s cod fishery could be closed because of rising mercury levels in fish from accelerated burning of coal in China.

Freyr Sverrisson, an energy consultant from Iceland, expressed dismay that Iceland’s pursuit of the hydrogen economy has been delayed as the country’s abundant hydro power potential has been developed to process imported bauxite for the global aluminum industry. Even though its development has damaged the natural beauty of the country, Iceland has aggressively expanded tourism. Both industries are major producers of carbon dioxide, increasing the country’s carbon footprint. In seeking short-term profits, it ignored its unique opportunity to fulfill the promise of a sustainable energy system and the economic opportunities it presents.

While global solutions are essential, Illinois is expected to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. At a recent hearing in Chicago regarding the development of a state plan to reduce Illinois carbon emissions, environmental interests favoring renewable energy and efficiency contrasted with Exelon’s desire to secure credit for avoided carbon releases from operating its nuclear power plants. When the state’s carbon reduction plan is developed and implemented, a key question will be the extent to which it moves us toward a sustainable energy future.

With the ongoing increase in large-scale animal confinement operations, it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the telltale odor of manure wafting across rural areas and small towns in the Midwest. On an energy tour to Sweden, we ate in a restaurant located near a hog confinement operation. We were told that manure odors had nearly driven the restaurant out of business. But a methane facility was installed to capture the gases and burn them to generate electricity, eliminating the odor and the threat to the restaurant.

We recently discussed this issue with an ecologist in Wisconsin concerned about the adverse impacts of large-scale animal operations who pointed out that in a number of facilities, the economic benefits of capturing methane exceed those coming from the sale of meat from such facilities.

Cutting carbon emissions will present economic opportunities as the new energy system evolves.

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 Oct. 1-7, 2014, issue

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