The Cure for Middle East Crises

by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, March 02, 2011 No Comment(s)

There’s nothing like middle east turmoil to make Americans anxious about energy supplies, and renew the cry (which goes back to the 1970s) to make this country less dependent on foreign oil. This time, however, it is well to note that remedies are at last underway. Libya and Florida appear to be playing a major role. This is not just good for the U.S., it might turn out to be great news for the state economy.

The scoop: Within just the last few months, stuff that has been talked about for decades is at last taking shape. It is hard to say which of three initiatives in the field might pay off, and possibly dominate, but the hope is that all three will contribute their share.

Closest to home, Florida Power & Light has proposed a wind farm on the edge of Lake Okeechobee. Florida has not been seen as ideal for wind energy. Despite breezes that always seem to be blowing in from the sea, western states are generally seen as more favorable for wind energy than Florida. But FPL has a pretty good track record in the field, and one must trust their instincts. Okeechobee is a huge body of water, the largest lake south of the Great Lakes, and if there’s any place wind can build up the volume necessary for a wind farm, that is it.

Not far away in Vero Beach, a concept long talked about is actually underway: making ethanol, a substitute for gasoline, from waste. The idea has been on the table for years, especially using sugar cane and its waste products. An Illinois firm, Coskata, has been planning a facility with U.S. Sugar Corp, but they have been beaten out of the gate by New Planet Energy and INEOS, the partners in Vero. Ethanol from waste is very unlike ethanol from corn, which is expensive and uses up food supply. This plant will take nature’s junk (yard waste and agricultural waste) and turn it into energy. It solves a waste management problem in the process of solving the larger energy problem. The plant is scheduled to begin construction late this year, and should be producing 8 million gallons of fuel by 2012. Ethanol has its critics, who consider it less efficient than gasoline, and damaging to some engines. But the auto industry is working on engines that can run on it. You have to think if consumers want it, technology will deliver it.

Finally, FPL again, is into the solar energy business. Several Florida facilities that already produce electricity from the sun are operating. President Obama came down to open the largest one in DeSoto County, capable of serving 3,000 homes. The potential of solar is huge. We read almost daily of new buildings which produce their own electricity from panels on their roofs. Unlike other renewable energy systems, solar has no harmful by-products. Wind energy is dangerous for some birds. Biofuels obviously have some emissions. Solar is simply clean. All it needs is sun, and they don’t call us the Sunshine State for nothing. Leave your car in the sun for an afternoon and try to touch the steering wheel. That may be the only downside to solar heating.

In the larger sense of the problem, what is happening on three fronts may appear to be baby steps, but babies grow up and some of them run very fast If the projects already underway prove successful, Florida may someday be the Silicone Valley of renewable energy.

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