GUEST COMMENTARY: Natural gas not viable alternative for city vehicles

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 | 4:08 p.m. CDT

Today’s natural gas is extremely polluting, even as it burns cleaner than some fossil fuels. It is extracted from shale deposits with a method called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." This method mixes large amounts of toxic chemicals and additives with large volumes of water that is "pressure injected" into shale deposits, forcing release of the trapped gas. Fracking contaminates above and below ground water resources, soil and air in the vicinity. People have lost their livelihoods, property values and health in these fracked areas.

The Columbia City Council plans to purchase new, natural-gas-burning trash trucks. This is unwise. In addition, it is amazing the city is considering a natural gas fueling station and the community is just finding out about it.

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Join our Peoples’ Visioning for a Different Community Vision. Resolve these, numerous other problems, and help bring more renewable energy resources to Columbia. Topic groups meet throughout the month and at a second conference at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the Columbia Public Library. Find out more at the Columbia Climate Change Coalition website.

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If we want to move to a new, more carbon dioxide "friendly" source to power our city vehicles, and we make some of our own renewable electric power right here, the first, obvious power shift for vehicles we should make would be to the energy we produce, right here, ourselves.

The city has been tasked — by wise voters in 2004 with 78 percent of the vote — to produce 15 percent of Columbia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2022. No cap was set for exceeding that goal if our community so chose. We can continue and should also greatly expand our own solar and other renewable energy sources. We should power our city fleet with our own renewable energy, keeping those energy expenses out of our city budget or use them for more renewable energy. Energy corporations are selling dirty, finite fuel sources as made in America and cleaner. The sources are touted as reducing price shocks and reducing foreign oil dependence. But the corporations just want to keep everyone tied to their finite, dangerous sources — renewables remove people from under Big Energy’s thumb.

There is absolutely no need to purchase finite, non-renewable fuel, subject to price swings and volatility, with a toxic and water-wasteful, extreme extraction process, at such a high price to human beings. This is even more unwise at a time when drought, climate change and population growth put extreme pressure on clean, abundant fresh water for food, human and animal needs.

There is only one choice for trash trucks and the future city fleet. Before a final decision on a direction-defining purchase, demand to see cost comparisons between electric and natural gas buses and trash trucks. Call Mayor Bob McDavid, all council members, the city manager and public works director. Tell them to purchase plug-in electric vehicles. That renewable energy is ours today, and growing — without buying coal or nuclear for electricity — in sufficient amounts to fuel and follow along with the city plan of purchasing a couple of replacement vehicles per year.

Regarding the new roll-cart trash collection pilot study, citizens want to see the cost benefit comparison of each collection process, before implementing the roll-carts. Tell the mayor, council and city manager to publish this data — for the present system and the roll-cart system — in the City Source and newspapers. Likewise, publish for our informed response all comparison costs for an electric vehicle fleet with natural gas vehicles — the latter cannot be "fueled" by our own cleaner, renewable sources. These vehicle purchase comparisons should come in very close to one another.

Regarding fracking, ask your government representatives, at all levels, to put a stop to it. Ask U.S. senators to co-sponsor and support the FRAC Act. Remind them it is dangerous to our water supply, public health and livelihoods and that developing this dirty fuel takes the nation in a wrong, polluting direction!

Monta Welch is the founder and president of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition and Interfaith Care for Creation.

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Ken Geringer September 4, 2012 | 5:44 p.m.

I am clearly not understanding. What are our own renewable energy sources? Once we figure that out, how much energy can we produce using them, and at what cost?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams September 4, 2012 | 6:09 p.m.

Ken: Well, you can pick from 4.

(1) The sun (light),
(2) The sun and moon (gravity),
(3) Heat from inside the earth (from radioactivity), and
(4) Making one nuclide from another (e.g., plutonium from uranium or thorium) and using the new one in a reactor.

After that, you're just whistling Dixie.

Of course, there are situations where even using these is not very "sustainable"....or at least not a good thing to do. Examples include burning your food for energy, windmills that require rare earths, etc. I'm unsure what happens if you drill deep enough for abundant #3, but suspect it's not pretty.

Using light to make hydrogen/oxygen from sea water works for me, but we need a highly-efficient catalyst that operates at low temps. Gawd knows that that catalyst would look like; we only have 92 elemental choices plus combinations. It would be our luck that the element(s) are rare and the bulk owned by some other country.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger September 5, 2012 | 7:16 a.m.

What would be cool would be to have electric-powered garbage trucks (they're currently being deployed in France) powered by the electricity generated by the methane in the city's landfill. A nice loop that.

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