Energy and Politics

If you’re anything like me, all those lovely pictures of a snowy Park City in that last post distracted you. Winter in the West can be rough, and it can definitely cause some chaos around town… especially a ski town hosting one of the largest independent film festivals and celebrating the first good dump in FOREVER. But, for those of you that made it past the slideshow and read those last few sentences, you know that Mark had an interview with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead. So lets pick up where Mark left off, on the issue of politics. Well, politics and energy.

The day I’m writing this is not only the day Mark had the interview, but it also happens to be the day of the State of the Union Address. If you watched it, you will have noticed that about 15 minutes were devoted to the discussion of the future of our nation’s energy. I guess this whole energy thing is a pretty big deal…  According to our President, it’s one of the 5 biggest issues facing the United States right now. But let’s put the ultimate future of America and the human race aside for a second and ask a more simple question: How political do you think the issue of energy is? Are there sides? Do your political opinions influence the type of energy production you support? In an earlier post Mark replied to the criticism that he was “green” or an environmentalist (re: liberal) because he rides his bike. After getting to know Mark, you would soon realize that he rides because he loves it and couldn’t care less about what political stereotype is attached to pedaling a bicycle.  It’s funny how political lines can get drawn anywhere, even the type of transportation you choose. (For the record, I know lots of liberals that drive big honkin’ trucks for one reason or another; I also know a staunch Republican that drives a hybrid.) So, are solar panels Democratic? Is natural gas Republican?

Mark has approached this movie with what I consider to be a devout stance of neutrality. But that brings me back to my point; his neutrality towards favoring one type of energy resource has by default required him to detach himself from the political spectrum. I for one am extremely interested to hear what Governor Mead (R) has to say about energy in Wyoming. Maybe Mark can chime in here and talk about his interview… or maybe you’ll just have to wait and see it in the film.

Marty

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Where has Marty been? Catching up with the other mind of EOE

Mark is lucky. While it’s true that the topic of energy has completely consumed his life for the past year, at least he put himself there voluntarily.  I’m a different story. Every day at my job as an energy consultant I’m surrounded by discussions of energy, and then I come home, get on the phone, and talk to Mark about it for a few hours more. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated by the subject, but I just felt it necessary to start off the post by trying to rouse a little pity. Didn’t work? You still think Mark gets less sleep than me? Yeah, you’re probably right. And what’s crazier is that he probably does think about energy more than me, and he’s not even getting paid for it!

It’s been a while since I posted – my last full contribution was the post about Mark’s energy storage problem on his ride. And I know ever since that post all of the devoted fans of this blog have had a little thought in the back of their minds: Hey when are we going to hear from that Marty guy again? I can’t blame you. In that post I hope you had a chance to appreciate just how hilarious and clever Mark’s co-writer is. No? Jokes about mini-nuclear reactors aren’t that funny? Fine. You’re probably right. And actually, that’s exactly the point I want to make. No, not the fact that I’m not as funny as I think I am (though that is ego-breakingly true). The problem is that the subject of energysometimes just isn’t that interesting to people that don’t deal with it on a daily basis.

Marty smiles big for the camera

As mentioned in my introductory post, one of the main things I do at my job is perform energy assessments on buildings. I spend a lot of time during the workday analyzing energy use in commercial buildings. And as I’ve dealt with various projects I’ve come across some interesting situations… Well at least I find them interesting. The thing is, not everyone does; sometimes not even the people that I think probably should.

 

For example: It’s so odd how a wild party just dies when I start talking about the decision for Boulder, CO to start the process of switching to a municipally-owned electrical utility. Ok, no, I don’t talk about energy on every Saturday night. But, even when I’m having lunch with a few friends that live in Boulder, if I try and throw that issue into the conversation, it’s met with stares and possibly eye-rolls. And these are the very people that I believe should care the most because it is going to directly affect them. I understand that at first glance the topic may seem very dry, but there are so many points to discuss and debate. And what’s more, it’s an issue that directly affects the citizens of the town, and the future of their electricity supply. But as I write those last five words I catch myself and think, “the truth is, not everyone finds the ‘future of their electricity supply’ all that fascinating.”

And really that’s fine. That’s one of the things that makes people, people. We all have our own lives, thoughts, curiosities and passions to keep us busy.  But, what if we are overlooking one of the more determining factors on how we live our lives? The world is full of things that you never stop to really take a look at, and then one day something finally catches your eye. And from that day on, you care.  It doesn’t matter what side of the argument you choose or if you choose not to argue at all.  What matters is that something has pulled you in and now you care.  How can you make decisions about something that you don’t care about?  Would you act differently if you did care?

–Marty

 

***Editor’s Note-  Marty was originally introduced in a previous post as having “pursued” a degree in Architectural engineering.  The word “pursued” makes it sound like he tried it out one day.  This couldn’t be more misrepresenting.  Marty holds a BS degree in Architectural engineering and has been working at the forefront of the energy efficiency and assessment industry ever since. Just so you know that we didn’t just pull a random guy off the street 🙂

 

 

Thanks

It’s that time of the year. Everyone is traveling, spending time with family, and busy with the holidays. Burning Torch Productions would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season, and say thanks for all of your support. We have been traveling a bit ourselves, about 3000 miles so far. Carrie and I have traveled by train, bus, and car in our most recent adventure to the Pacific Northwest. Everything is finally starting to make sense. Having a large amount of the filming done, I have decided to dedicate a number of blogs to writing about the people who I have met on my travels. The list spans from energy industry workers to drifters on the street. There is an entire story alone about the people I have encountered. Make sure to check back to get a glimpse into the lives of some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

In the meantime, enjoy the holidays and stay warm! Here’s a picture that hopefully brings a chuckle to your day. Whoever said making movies couldn’t be fun?

Mark jumps on down to Phoenix with Carrie

Pondering in the Mist

The trip to the Northwest has been well worth it.  It has been enlightening, humbling, and inspirational.  Between the huge change in scenery, the interviews with Bonneville Power Administration, and stumbling across more power plants than I’ve ever seen, I have finally found some answers. What is the best energy?  Well, I have definitely come a long ways since I first asked this question.  I have traveled coast to coast, through rain forests, deserts, canyons, and mountain passes.  I’ve traveled by foot, bike, train, bus, car, truck, four wheeler, and plane.  Now that I’ve journeyed over 8000 miles, it’s time to make sense of everything.  The next few months are going to be busy editing interviews and piecing together the puzzle with Marty Pool.  As much as I want to tell everyone what I’ve learned, I have to wait until the film is finished.  As the footage unfolds, Marty and I will be blogging to keep the conversation going.  We will also be blogging about whatever we feel is relevant to Energy! O Energy!  I will be on the road for another 2 and a half weeks gathering footage. I’ll leave you witha few photos of the last two days.  If you’re just joining us, check out some video clips from the first bike ride through Wyoming to explore energy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCjbccG7c8

Happy trails.

Conversations

For the first time in 6 months I’ve been able to sit down and take a second to think.  I spent my first weekend at home in I don’t know how long.  The topic of energy is grazing in more headlines than ever.  Between pipelines being proposed, talk of exporting natural gas, new wind development, solar plants being constructed, and the never-ending debate about coal and nuclear, it seems that we can’t get enough (news about energy).  There’s a reason for this though.  In order for something to be news, it has to be relevant to people.  In a discussion with the cowriter of “Energy! O Energy!”, Marty Pool, we talked about how energy has become something that we need.  It started out as a luxury and it has become something so integrated into our society that the world as we know it would cease to function if our energy system were to fail.  Is energy comparable to any other “product”?  It’s obvious that we need food and water to survive but would we be able to get this without the large-scale energy production of the modern world?  Think about farming, livestock, processing, transportation, purifying…  They all require massive amounts of energy.

 

I have been trying to strike up this conversation with some people while I am home and this entry is essentially a columniation of how that conversation has been going. Could we survive without the energy production that we have come to expect?  A common answer, especially in Wyoming, to this question has been, “I could live off of the land.  If the world fell apart tomorrow, I could provide for myself and my family by hunting, chopping wood, planting food, and building a house.”  I think this is great and everyone should have some kind of basic survival skills.  However, my question is, how many people could truly sustain their self, based on their surrounding environment.  In Wyoming it would be easy.  We have plenty of land, natural resources, and wildlife.  You could cut down trees to make a house.  You could hunt elk and deer for food.  You could grow a garden with all of the space.  You could get water from a near by river.  You could heat your house with wood that you chop down.  All one would need is the knowledge on how to utilize these abundant resources.  Think about how much space it would take to do this.  Now multiply that times 7 billion and you have planet earth.  What about places New York City though?  How many people could Manhattan support without importing anything?  What about any major city?  Without the large-scale production system in our world, cities would cease to exist.

 

Let’s bring it back to energy.  If you were responsible for generating the energy that you use, could you do it?  I think this is a fascinating question because it takes something that we never think about and makes it relevant to our every day life.  The same question exists in every suit.  Could you grow as much food as you eat?  Could you carry or pump as much water as you drink?  We have created a magnificent system of trade that allows us to not have to provide everything we need for ourselves.  This couldn’t ring any louder with energy.  There are those select few who do choose to generate as much power as they use and that’s great.  It is often cheaper in the long run, has environmental benefits, and gives you a sense of accomplishment for being self-sufficient.  The only issue with this is that it isn’t accessible to everyone.  You can’t put a wind turbine on your apartment in downtown Salt Lake City.  It’s not easy to build a nuclear reactor in your garage.  You can’t build a dam on a river that you don’t own. You can’t put solar panels on your dorm.  Even if you could, our energy demands often dwarf what is realistic for each person to generate.  I was talking to colleague about generating power using a generator hooked to a bicycle.  It sounds like a great idea!  You can get a workout, save money, and create your own energy!  Where is bad?  The issues start rise when you consider how much power you use on a daily basis.  According to a number of sources that I have interviewed for the film, the average person can generate around 70 watts of electricity.  That’s enough to power one standard light bulb.  Ask yourself; do you use more than one light bulb?  What about your computer, TV, dishwasher, dryer, washer, AC, stove, phone, toaster, coffee pot, and everything else in your house that plugs into the wall?  Who is going to pedal the bike to power these things?  Even Tour De France athletes can only produce 300-400 watts.  Your air conditioner can use as many as 4000 watts.  That means that 10 world-class athletes pedaling like made would be able to power that one thing.  I’m tired just thinking about it.

 

In conclusion to this thought, I want to say that it is interesting to think about if you had to make everything that you use.  I am by no means asking anyone to generate their own power or grow their own food.  It isn’t my place to tell anyone what to do.  I just enjoy the conversation and find it interesting to think about.  Until one understands the magnitude of this idea of “energy”, it’s hard to effectively make decisions about how to use and generate it.  I have been tirelessly learning about energy for the last 6 months.  The more I learn, the less I discover that I know.  I will never know everything about energy, not even close.  No one will but that’s not the point.  After putting in all of this time these last 6 months, I don’t regret a second of it. Everything I learn applies directly to me because I use energy.  That’s why I’m interested.

Bonneville Power Administration

I’m back from Phoenix and packing for the next trip.  I have just found out that I’ll be headed to Portland, Oregon to talk with the senior vice president and executive vice president of Bonneville Power Administration.

The Columbia River is a large source of hydroelectricity generation for the Northwest

BPA is a public service organization that is in charge of getting power to the Pacific Northwest.  In other words, BPA makes sure that when you plug in your coffee maker or TV, it turns on and stays on.  That is huge!  Think about the logistics that goes into something that we have come to take for granted.  You have to decide how you’re going to make the energy.  You have to make the energy.  You have to make enough energy.  You can’t make too much energy.  You have to get the energy to the consumer.  You have to balance all of the different types of energy.  You have to make everyone happy, but at the same time, you have to provide them with enough energy to keep up with their demand.  Sometimes we want to save the planet without making any sacrifices.  Is this reasonable?  Whose job is it to make these decisions?  Imagine having to deal with all of these issues.  Doesn’t it sound like a huge job?  It sounds like one of the most complicated situations in our society today.  If this is such a huge job, then why haven’t we heard of organization like Bonneville Power Administration?  Is it a silent art and as long as they do their job well, they are invisible?  What exactly are they doing?  Why don’t more people know about what they do if it’s so important?  Have we taken the most elementary and necessary commodity other than food and water for granted?  Why?  That is my question.  Why do we as a society no longer think about this energy that seems to magically appear from the outlets in our house?  I will be continuing my journey to ask these questions in December by touring the Pacific Northwest and meeting with Bonneville Power Administration. Here is some background information about BPA.

http://www.bpa.gov/corporate/

http://www.bpa.gov/corporate/about_BPA/execs/embio.cfm

http://www.bpa.gov/corporate/about_BPA/execs/bsbio.cfm

On my way, I will be stopping at numerous energy production sites including hydroelectric sites, wind towers, a nuclear power station, and numerous natural gas power plants.  I will be home for about one and half weeks and then I’m setting off for a month.  This will be the longest that I’ve been home since July!  I’m already feeling restless…

I hope you’re keeping up on the blog because I will be posting much more often due to followers’ requests.  The blog has exceeded 5000 views!  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that people are becoming more and more interested in something that is so important.  Please feel free to request posts about subjects relating to what you want to hear.  Keep checking back for a story on my new method of transportation for the next leg of my journey!