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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - March 9, 2012

Positively Green

Electricity: the insatiable desire for power

by Iris Harrell

Having just watched the recent documentary "The Last Mountain," it was disturbing to learn about the continual and literal destruction (known as "mountain top removal") of the Appalachian Mountains. This practice aggressively digs into the buried layers of coal below the earth's surface, in order to cultivate enough coal for huge electrical plants to burn the coal and manufacture electrical power.

I reflected on the fact that it seems like almost all of my new purchases have a charging cord on them that must be used every night: my iPad, my cell phone, my Bluetooth. I could go on. That is what we are supposed to do, right? Move away from gas and oil to reduce all the CO2 coming from a dirty energy source?

As a Virginia girl, my first experiences hiking were in the Appalachian Mountains, affectionately referred to as the "Blue Ridge Mountains." They are absolutely gorgeous and awe-inspiring. They make one feel peaceful, emotionally restored and connected to the land. There are families in the area who disembarked in the 1600s from the first ships to arrive in America, and they haven't left the Blue Ridge since settling in the New World. Today, many of these Virginians continually see the heavy machinery in use and hear the tons of explosives used daily that destroy their sacred ground. And yes, they use electricity, too.

The newer green energy sources cannot come fast enough. I'm still waiting for the all-electric sedan by Tesla to debut on the market this year, so I can drive 300 miles without an electric charge. Yes, I will need even more electricity daily. But how much time will pass before the more benign solar and wind energy sources feed a larger portion of our insatiable desire for more power?

Right now there is a "wind rush" going on, just like the former gold rush and oil rush that happened in this country in prior centuries. And thankfully, this is a worldwide "wind rush." There are present and future conflicts that will surface with this pursuit of wind, as the very large, towering wind turbines are land-based. Wind farms require large tracts of land and the blades on these turbines are up to 30 yards long, which translates to mean three first downs for the 49ers. That's long!

It isn't objectionable to see these wind farms when I drive toward Sacramento or Palm Springs. They look a lot more friendly than the oil derricks seen in Texas. Yes, there is a problem with the unfortunate deaths of migrating birds and the turbines are visually demanding. But it seems that while there is no perfect energy solution, some are less imperfect than others.

The exciting thing about wind energy from my perspective is that the Middle East with all its perpetual conflicts will soon not have a stranglehold on the world's economy at large, as we move away from oil as our major energy source. Africa, Asia and Latin America may become the new centers of energy production with new wind-based farm development. One of the reasons wind has been given a kick start is the national and international carbon "offsets" that encourage countries who are part of the Kyoto Accord to move to cleaner energy development. This is a great example of how cooperative nations (via their governments) can help solve the world's global warming problem with a "carrot" instead of a "stick."

Mexico has the potential wind energy capacity of 71 gigawatts. This is 40 percent more power than the country's entire electricity-generating need (including gas, coal and hydropower). Its national goal in 2010 was to double its solar and wind energy in two years. (The Isthmus of Tehuantapec is the windiest area in the world; developers have been cueing up to buy or control areas such as this to reap future benefits.) Wind energy in Mexico has quadrupled over the last two years and has made its total renewable production of energy more than one fourth of its total electric output.

The United States currently has the highest percentage of power from wind generation, but then Americans require a lot more power than Mexico. We need to wrestle more quickly and effectively with our NIMBY (not in my backyard) issues about wind and solar and get on board with developing these cleaner forms of energy. Our desire for power and our population are only going one way — UP!

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.

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