The Renewable Enemy of Big Oil

By: Karla Fetrow

Legislating for the Good of the People
An old saying, “you can’t fight city hall”, has been modified over the years to “you can’t fight big oil”.  So it would seem.  When President Obama first announced his campaign to change the energy section to “green”, low environmental impact development, the first rapid energy bids were for off-shore oil drilling.  A push to run a pipeline through from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, the Keystone XL project, was met with opposition by the US Environmental Protection Agency, but continues to be on the board as a viable possibility.  The New York Times, apparently dismayed by the opposition of groups that did not want fire breathing out of their water faucets, assured its readers that gas fracking was inevitable.  It just needed a few tweaks.  It was round one for the oil companies, whose roles had changed to include the assertion that the gas they were offering was natural,  but it was still the same cast of actors.

What if, however, your elected officials were on your side?  What if they were actually drawing up proposals for renewable energy resources; resources that would alleviate the grinding, uphill spiral of energy consumption for electrical costs?  Alaska seems to be doing just that.  The State Legislature wants to see fifty percent of its energy use engineered through renewable resources by the year 2025.  Their proposal includes wind farms, geothermal conversion and hydro-electric power.  In fact, Senator Lisa Murkowski feels so passionately about it, she joined the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is currently one of its highest ranking members.  On March 21, 2011, she introduced  bipartisan legislation to accelerate the deployment of hydroelectric power projects across the country.

Said Senator Murkowski, “It is now all too clear that America needs a consensus policy on energy that can help keep prices low, create jobs and ensure a safe supply of power,” Murkowski said. “Clean, safe and domestic hydropower can help us reach our shared clean energy goals. Our bill achieves common sense regulatory reform, spurs economic growth and takes advantage of hydropower’s position as the country’s leading source of clean, renewable energy.”

Co-sponsors for the National Hydroelectric Association include,  Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Patty Murray, D-Wash., James Risch, R-Idaho, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

According to the Renewable Energy Project for Alaska, The Hydropower Improvement Act, NHA said, sets a dynamic hydropower agenda for the nation.

The bill will advance project deployment (from conduit and small hydro to non-powered dams to pumped storage) by requiring better interagency coordination; through funding of competitive grants for increased production; and with continued support for research and development activities.

“Hydropower has more multi-region and bipartisan support than any other clean energy technology. It is critical to our clean energy future that this legislation is passed as soon as possible,” said National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci. “Hydropower is already responsible for nearly seven percent of total U.S. electricity generation and two-thirds of our renewable electricity. This bill recognizes the vital role of hydropower as an affordable, reliable, available and sustainable domestic energy source.”

In addition to growing the domestic supply of clean energy, local job creation is a primary focus of the legislation. Already responsible for over 300,000 jobs, a recent study by Navigant Consulting, Inc. has shown that with the right policies, hydropower could create over 1.4 million cumulative direct, indirect and induced jobs by 2025.

Hydroelectric: the Original Solution to Energy
Alaska is no stranger to hydroelectric use.  Much of Southeast Alaska is powered by hydroelectric plants, including Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell and Cordova.  Hydro power was experimented and used well into the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies.  The shift away from renewable resources and to fossil fuels didn’t actually begin until the building of the Alaskan pipeline.

Currently, Alaska receives 53% of its electrical power from natural gas, 19% from hydroelectric plants and .2 % from other renewable resources.  Natural gas is an extremely abundant resource in Alaska.  There is an estimated 85.4 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in the Arctic region alone.  During Sarah Palin’s tenure as governor, she pushed for a natural gas line that would tie a North Slope gas pipeline in with the TransCanada Corporation and ExxonMobil.  Even one hundred million dollars in seed money was put out to begin the initiative, but by the year 2010, no agreement had been reached, and spiraling energy rates had begun to seize the state.  The legislators went back to their drawing boards, discouraged.

What they drew up was a massive proposal to build a dam that would supply hydroelectric energy for the railbelt, an area of Alaska that begins in the Kenai Peninsula and extends into the Denali Park area and Fairbanks.  This dam would be situated within the Denali Range of the Susitna River.  The proposed Susitna River hydro project, as described by Alaska Dispatch,  would involve building the biggest dam in the United States in 50 years and change the flow of one of the most loved rivers in the state.

A hydroelectric project on the Susitna River about halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks was first proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1970s, although talk of generating power from the Susitna dates back to the 1950s. Work went on until 1986, when the project was shelved due to an economic downturn.

The proposed dam is bigger than anything that’s been built since the Glen Canyon Dam went up across the Colorado River in northwest Arizona in 1966 and created Lake Powell. Glen Canyon Dam is 710 feet high and is capable of producing about 1,300 megawatts.

The proposed dam has met with some serious opposition.  The landmark town of Talkeetna, resting directly on the banks of the Susitna River is worried that construction will disrupt the salmon migration as it heads towards its spawning grounds.  They are worried that the new course the river will take might destroy their own spectacular waterfront access.

Susitna River by Talkeetna @2011 Karla Fetrow

These fears are reflected in a large number of Alaskans.  The Susitna River is a popular vacation and fishing area, lined with numerous lodges and campgrounds.  The fourth largest King Salmon run swims up the tributaries to their spawning grounds.  If a river’s oxygen content, chemical composition, temperature, or flow patterns are altered, the effect on fish could be disastrous.

Opponents point out that glacial melt is what feeds the Susitna River and that projections show a fifty percent reduction in the sized of the glaciers by the year 2025, leaving a question as to the long term production of the dam.  The project is often compared to the Hoover Dam and other reservoirs in the United States that ultimately created a negative impact on the environment by changing the courses of rivers, drying up areas that had once been farm lands.  Opponents point out the costs of building the dam are not cheap.  The official estimate for building the dam has been placed at $4.5 billion, with possible overflow costs for mitigation measures that would include rectifying, reducing, or compensating for impacts on habitat, wildlife, and business interest on bonds.

These are very real concerns, but their basis has a more emotional than practical foundation.  Changing the course of a river is much like plotting a new highway.  There is more than one way to arrive from point A to point B.  A recent proposal for a hydroelectric dam was scrapped when it contained an itinerary for building an access road through a portion of the historic Iditarod Trail  It’s back to the drawing boards until they can come up with a better plan for access.  The dam project does not necessarily have to disrupt the flow of the river by Talkeetna nor damage the industry of sport fishing near the mouth of the Susitna River.  The proposal has had a great many years to mature, and along with it, significant advances in hydroelectric technology.  It can be altered and redirected to include all the concerns of the affected communities.

The Icelandic Solution

Iceland is the only country in Western Europe that still has large resources of competitively priced hydroelectric power and geothermal energy remaining to be harnessed. Although electricity consumption per capita in Iceland is second to none in the world, at about 28,200 kWh per person, only a fraction of the country’s energy potential has been tapped. Total economically viable electric power potential is now estimated at 50,000 GWh/year. About 8,490 GWh/year of this power had been harnessed in 2003, i.e. only about 17% of the total electrical energy potential.

Despite the advances in hydroelectric power, Iceland is still dependent on imported oil to operate their vehicles and thriving fishing industry.  However, with the ingenuity characteristic of Iceland’s inhabitants, they have been tackling this problem as well.  They have begun manufacturing vehicles that run off fuel cells.

Fuel cells generate electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen into water. And fuel cell technology is clean — the only by-product is water. “It’s just like a normal car,” says Asdis Kritinsdottir, project manager for Reykjavik Energy. Except the only pollution coming out of the exhaust pipe is water vapor. It can go about 100 miles on a full tank. When it runs out of fuel the electric battery kicks in, giving the driver another 18 miles — hopefully enough time to get to a refueling station. Filling the tank is similar to today’s cars — attach a hose to the car’s fueling port, hit “start” on the pump and stand back. The process takes about five to six minutes.  Hydrogen itself, is released naturally from waterfalls, and practically, by tapping the waters released from their hydro-electric reservoirs.

Pointing out the melting glaciers is a knee jerk reaction.  The glaciers will continue to melt with or without a dam unless climate change reverses the activity.  While it’s true that much of the might of the Susitna River is fed by glacial melt, it is also fed by the run-off of winter snow.  A dam would actually slow the feed of fresh water dumping into the salty content of the oceans and recapture snow melt.

Fish estuaries are extremely delicate, but this has not stopped developers from filling them in for highways, real estate and business applications.  This has not stopped oil and large mining interests from jeopardizing salmon beds and endangering marine life.  Leach fields and oil spills are unrecoverable in terms of damage to the fragile eco-system, but as long as the water and surrounding environment  is clean, fish and wildlife are extremely adaptable.  Caribou might change their migrational pattern to better fit their agenda for suitable river crossing points, but a change in the river course will not decimate their herds.  Salmon return to the point where they were spawned.  A number of fish hatcheries already exist in the State of Alaska to insure the healthy populace of its wild salmon.  There is no reason to believe a successful hatchery could not be built on the Susitna River to insure the safe return of its salmon.

Comparing the State of Alaska’s proposal for a hydroelectric dam to reservoirs in the Continental United States is unfair.  The function of many of the dam projects has not been for the sole purpose of tapping hydroelectric energy, but to have a reservoir of fresh water for urban areas and agriculture.  Alaska has plenty of fresh water.  The purpose of the dam would not be to conserve water for its residents, who primarily own their own wells, but solely for creating hydroelectric power to the economically energy strapped railbelt.

Behind the Masquerade

Interestingly enough, the opponents of the dam, the ones who are shrieking the loudest about possible environmental damage, are the advocates of natural gas development.  Natural gas, which began as a friendly face, providing cheap energy, has become as much of an energy tyrant as oil companies have become over recent years.   The price of natural gas has quadrupled over the last ten years, making it as expensive to heat your home with natural gas as it is to go all-electric.  Despite the vast untapped natural gas resources literally lying beneath the feet of the inhabitants, the development of natural gas has stagnated, and the drive for cheap, local natural gas has shifted to one concentrated effort; creating a natural gas pipeline that will furnish energy for the Continental United States.  In fact, the very fact that natural gas lies directly below our feet has resulted in various court cases when natural gas companies tried to declare subsurface drilling rights on private property.

“High Country News” states that, “opponents of the dam concerned about environmental impacts appear to be pushing Alaska to stay reliant on fossil fuel. Richard Leo, a member of the newly formed Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives, questioned whether the dam was necessary when the natural gas reserves could already fill the state’s energy needs. He fears the dam will impact caribou habitat and salmon runs, becoming “destructive on a massive scale.” Climate change may already be impacting the state, but that doesn’t mean it precious resources should be traded for their energy, he says.

“Massive dam projects have been shown internationally across the past 20 years to no longer be the most effective way to generate electricity…their potential destructiveness outweighs the amount of electricity they can create.”

Natural gas, along with oil, is becoming a has been, a washed up movie star still frantically applying botox, plastic surgery and tantrums to secure that leading role.  We have a role model for the successful use of hydroelectric and geothermal energy in Iceland.  It has successfully given its people cheap energy without disrupting its environment.  Alaska has the same geological features, but in greater abundance; volcanoes, geothermal pockets, earth pounding waterfalls, fast flowing rivers and giant lakes.  There is absolutely no reason Alaska cannot build an environmentally safe, hydroelectric dam that will provide cheap, renewable energy for its inhabitants and meet the demands of the local communities.  While building hydroelectric dams is not going to immediately resolve our economic difficulty with rising energy costs, it paves the way for a clean, renewable resource future.

About karlsie

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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29 Comments on “The Renewable Enemy of Big Oil”

  1. Gee… Fuel Cell Technology or using American Lives to secure a middle eastern oil field? (and send gas money to them?) Don’t be stupid!

    Photos: “World’s largest fuel cell park is open for business”
    11.2MW Fuel Cell Energy Fuel Cell Park

    check this out too!

    “New sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”

  2. Wow! Thank you so much, Jeff, for sharing your information. It’s exciting to think there are actually people crawling out of the slimy mess created by Big Oil and doing something constructive about generating clean energy. Go hydrogen power!

  3. “The State Legislature wants to see fifty percent of its energy use engineered through renewable resources by the year 2925.”

    Is this right? Alaska is making plans for 900 years from now? (Excuse me while I laugh.)

    And about changing the course of rivers.. I really don’t think we have any business doing such things. I think rivers are supposed to be where they are, just like forests. But of course Brazil is cutting down 1% of its forests per year.. so who cares about some river in Alaska eh?

    I’m not an advocate of natural gas karlsie, but I do feel we have no right to fuck with the earth helter-skelter the way we’ve been doing the past hundred years.

    I might be wrong, but I get the impression that you are wildly underestimating the negative impact of dams..

  4. Thanks for pointing out the typo, ET. I touch type and always have had trouble with the “9” and the “0”. It now stands corrected.

    I have many thoughts concerning dams and reservoirs. To begin with, the dams and reservoirs most people point to as examples of destructive engineering are pushing a hundred years old. Our technology has come a long ways since then and we should be able to construct one with a bit of wisdom and foresight. As i mentioned earlier, we’re not strangers to hydroelectric technology. We have a small hydroelectric dam not far from where i live and instead of being repelled by it, the salmon love the pool at the basis where the water pours out. It’s one of the best fishing spots around.

    Many of our rivers have extremely erratic courses; especially the glacier fed ones. Floods also completely change the courses of our rivers, especially in the Kenai Peninsula. So do earthquakes. Considering our rapidly melting glacier raising the water table of our oceans and changing the underwater currents that govern our weather, i would think people would be a bit happy about the idea of a reservoir that recaptures some of this glacial melt before it makes its inevitable way to the ocean.

    Alaska has some of the strictest environmental laws in the United States, yet every time we study ways of developing one of our resources, we start hearing the shrill calls of those who want it to be an untouched wilderness. It can’t be completely untouched. It has inhabitants. The inhabitants have needs. Even a road that would have connected the villages for land transport was shot down by environmental concerns.

    I appreciate that the rest of the world would like an untouched wilderness area they can visit some day, but if they long for it so much, they should clean their own back yards. The rest of the world is old and has layers of civilization built on other layers. We don’t. The rest of the world has been fiddling around with its environment for centuries. We haven’t. We don’t gas frack. We don’t have nuclear power. We don’t have industrial plants. We don’t manufacture. We’re sick and tired of the bullshit from oil and natural gas companies and their lack of responsibility.

    We are young and we can learn from the mistakes of other countries that have grown old and that have wasted their natural resources. The Susitna project might get scaled down. It might go through numerous revisions before something is on the table agreeable to all the inhabitants. If our legislators are smart, they’ll study the technology Iceland uses for a low impact, environmental imprint. We have some wind farms as well, but even these must be strategically placed because though we have lots of wind, we do not want our wind mills slaughtering our migratory birds. We have lots of waterfalls for collecting hydrogen naturally, so those might be taken into consideration as well.

    If the rest of the world wishes to give up energy sources. If it wishes to stop spilling industrial waste, polluting clean water, collecting in huge, urban centers with the earth buried under miles of concrete, utilizing plastics and metals for communications, entertainment and play things, clear cutting land for development or agri-farming, than the Alaskan people will be compliant with that. We’re an extremely adaptable people and quite familiar with subsistence living. Until then, i think it’s our right to develop our own technology, and i think hydroelectric is a far more sensible answer than nuclear power, oil or natural gas.

  5. Karla – while I admire your enthusiasm, the math itself just doesn’t add up.

    Comparing a country like Iceland with nations like the United States is flawed in the extreme – the reason the geothermal metric works for them is because it’s a per capita model – in lay terms, they simply have more of the stuff on that little rock to go around for their limited population.

    The research was done at Oregon State University and at the University of Hawaii (in Hawaii, it’s still ongoing) – but the outcome and conclusions are the same: The technology to tap the earth’s geothermal resources in a cost-effective manner to replace even part of the oil-usage in the world simply isn’t there, and probably won’t be for some years.

    A cursory overview of the math is important here – first, hydrogen is a carrier, not a source (it has to be extracted from something else, which carries with it an energy-cost-component). Electricity from hydropower is a source – but it has to be consumed immediately; it cannot be refined and stored as a ready-source of easily-realized energy-in-the-form-of-work.

    While a person gets a certain feel-good from charging his or her Volt or other 100%-electric vehicle, the cost of same comes home to bite just as soon as that vehicle is four or five years old – and a $12,000 bill comes due to replace the battery array (one of the reasons why you don’t see too many used hybrids on lots – they’re a bad deal.)

    We have, using safe mining methods, about 50 years worth of uranium. All of the bragging about natural gas doesn’t get around the basic math of that one, either – there’s about twenty years of the stuff in the ground if we want to use it to replace as little as 1/3rd of our oil usage.

    To replace another 1/3rd, the world would have to dam nearly every moving river on Earth – something which has already been to the Court of Consequences (that’s why dams all over America are being breached right now – to restore the damage done to rivers, watersheds, and migratory fish species).

    Current technology would require that we put flat-plate collectors in half of the world’s arid spots – destroying fragile desert ecosystems – in order to replace the last 1/3rd.

    There are seven billion people on the planet – Brazil is cutting 1% of its rainforest every year (something they’ve been doing for the last 35) – by the time 50% of it is gone – somewhere (charitably) around 2040, tropical climates will shift dramatically, causing massive starvation in large parts of the world (Hawaii will start to desertify as a result, among other things).

    By that time, there will also be around 10 billion people living on Earth in some manner (although around half will be starving).

    Those last two events will render any notion of ‘replaceable energy’ a joke.

    The real problem isn’t energy – the real problem is overpopulation – in sum, too damn many people on the planet for the available dwindling energy and any proposed solutions.

    Instead of trying to whistle past the graveyard and pretend that we’re going to march into a bright, hydrogen/hydropower/solar-powered future, we’d better get used to the idea of watching half the planet starve to death because we wouldn’t control our populations – and trying to stay out of the way as the remaining half go to war for what resources remain.


    The Party’s Over – Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg (New Society Publishers; 2005)

    Power Down – Options and Actions for a Post Carbon World – Richard Heinberg (New Society Publishers; 2004)

  6. Will, i don’t advocate for the world at large to go with hydroelectric power, although i do think it should open itself up for the technology of fuel cells. What i said near the beginning of the article was that Alaska has the same geography as Iceland; that is the same conditions that create large pockets of geothermal energy along with vast waterfalls and water ways for the creation of hydroelectricity. We don’t wish to supply the world with energy. We only want to develop our own cheap, renewable resources.

    The problem with our teeming cities is that they are not self contained or self supporting. The inhabitants consume their nearby resources and look farther and farther away for more solutions. The Arctic Rim should not be looked at as a means to provide answers for problems they created for themselves. It should not be drilled, drained of its minerals, depleted of its fossil fuels, but it should be allowed to explore its own options for renewable energy. If our studies find the Susitna Dam project a poor investment due to environmental impact, the people won’t pass it, but they will continue to examine ways of creating hydroelectric power because we are not overpopulated, and we have no desire to go down with the sinking ship of failed technology.

    The cities are just that; sinking ships. I think we’ll see a decline in population in a very short time. The coastlines, where most of the cities lay, are corroding. Along with the crowded conditions, crumbling infrastructure, poor air quality and inadequate medical care, flood waters will exacerbate the conditions of diseases. It’s up to each demographic area to start making preparations for the future. Sure, if they simply raise their hands in despair and do nothing, nothing will be done. They will run out of food, run out of water, run out of room for growth. They will begin expiring.

    If we begin now to implement a renewable resource future, it will still take twenty-five years before we can begin truly reaping the rewards, twenty-five years to feel the affects of the damage already set in motion. Twenty-five years of elevated radiation levels, chemicals in our food, polluted drinking water and the environmental furies of climate change. The future looks very grim if we do nothing except sit on our hands and let it go merrily along its way.

  7. “If we begin now to implement a renewable resource future, it will still take twenty-five years before we can begin truly reaping the rewards, twenty-five years to feel the affects of the damage already set in motion. Twenty-five years of elevated radiation levels, chemicals in our food, polluted drinking water and the environmental furies of climate change. The future looks very grim if we do nothing except sit on our hands and let it go merrily along its way.”

    Karla, don’t get me wrong – I wish you guys luck with your dam. I really do. But to think that hydropower is our unsung-technology and the answer to a world rapidly running out of oil is poorly-reasoned, and wrong.

    As I mentioned above, the math just doesn’t add up. Even at current energy usage-levels (where 5% of the world lives well and the rest live in poverty), we can’t replace oil-usage – and there is simply no way that we’re going to give the rest of the planet a decent life on hydropower. The sheer population density on the planet precludes it.

    As mentioned, it won’t happen with hydrogen, or uranium, or solar, either – and neither are we going to achieve some energy-nirvana here in the ‘States, either – that ship sailed some years ago; we had a chance when Carter suggested it, but the ‘people’ responded by voting him out of office and installing Ronnie Ray-Gun as our Saviour-in-Chief, who promptly raised the White House thermostat, pulled the solar-panels off the roof, and declared that such things were ‘defeatist talk’.

    Now, the U.S. population has increased by 1/3rd, and the world population since 1980 is a staggering 63% higher (4.4B in 1980; 7B now).

    Had we controlled our populations, we had a chance. Now, all one has to do is look at the photos – today, half of America has no snowpack in this winter of 2012; the polar cap is 1/4 normal-size; anthropogenic climate-change is a matter of fact, regardless of America’s ‘conservatives’ and other climate-change deniers. Again, the math is a bitch: we no longer have a chance to correct the problem.

    The world’s populations will continue to grow (case in point: Brazil. In spite of their ‘socialist miracle’, the official Brazilian ‘solution’ to their population problem since 1975 has been ‘homesteading’ (read: Give every Brazilian head of household 50 acres and a chainsaw, and point them to the rainforest).

    (Religion is the elephant-in-the-room in this case – but that’s another story, entirely – it’s also why we’ll never get a handle on our populations.)

    But hey.

    I really do wish you well with that dam. The only thing which remains is to pick a place which has a better-than-average chance of retaining a water supply, and then putting it to use. The rules have changed, and all bets are off. Local solutions are, I’m afraid, all that we have left.

    You might do well. I wish you luck.


  8. I’m very sorry that you were offended by what I said karlsie. My bad, I (and the rest of the world) have no business butting into Alaska’s matters and we’re very sorry.

    Please don’t take offense, but I believe the whole concept of mass producing energy is obsolete. IMO production of electricity should be decentralised and localized. I think the most rational thing to do is for each household or community to make their own electricity.

    Over here in the middle east we get 7-8 months of uninterrupted very intense sunshine. It’s always sunny in the middle east. And many houses are equipped with solar panels that provide electricity for the house.

    If only everyone became responsible for their own life…

    In the rural areas here people grow their own vegetables and raise their own cows and sheep.. not only don’t they buy milk and cheese, they actually sell it.. all they need now to be completely independent is to power their own houses and they’re all set.

    I do hope that your dam works out for you. Good luck.

  9. And karlsie, the majority of these old civilizations that are built on top of older layers are in the deserts of the middle east. I don’t know if you’ve been out here, but there’s not much damage to be done when all you’ve got is bare earth and rocks.

    I think the only thing dumber than cutting down forests to make roads is brazilians cutting down mimosa hostilis trees (possibly the most concentrated source of easily extractable DMT) to make fence posts.

    You make it sound as if people are the only inhabitants that count. I think the trees, animals, rivers and the fish of alaska have equal right to live there. And who should a forest complain to if it doesn’t want to be disturbed? Seriously.

    In Iran however, it is illegal to cut down trees without an official permit.

  10. Phd, i can sympathize with your sentiments, and old growth trees are a terrible thing to butcher, but you don’t find much old growth outside Southeastern Alaska because the average life expectancy of any of our indigenous trees is rarely beyond fifty years. This is because they can’t grow deeply into the ground before touching permafrost, so their roots are shallow. The winds knock them down, or avalanches or floods. Since we are extremely mountainous, you don’t have to go very high up to get above the tree line.

    I firmly believe in each demographic area or community developing its own renewable energy source. Our railbelt is over six hundred miles long, from the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks, but it still contains a small community; not much more than half a million people, yet this number means services to about two thirds of the population. Our heating rates were so high this year, even the middle class is completely broke right now and hopeful we don’t receive another cold snap before spring. Many small businesses that specialized in hauling services, heavy equipment or other transportation related work have gone bankrupt and are waiting in line for a Walmart job. Individually, nobody has the funds to build their own renewable energy supply. We are left with the choice of giving in to the demands of big oil, the mercilessness of the natural gas companies or backing a state backed plan to use hydroelectric, geothermal and wind powered energy. If you were in our position, what would you choose?

    I should also add, that considering the location for the proposed dam, it would have to be huge just to keep it stable. It’s in the Alaska Range, where the mountains are enormous, with huge valleys and gorges cut out from the passage of the glaciers. The spring runoff from the melting snow is staggering and would probably account for half the reservoir’s storage. A full environmental impact report has not yet been submitted, so i don’t know the details of the plan, but i really can’t be approved for finalization without the consent of the affected areas, such as Fairbanks, Denali and Talkeetna, and i can’t imagine these areas giving their consent unless the environment is protected. From my understanding, the dam would be built in a natural gorge, amid a natural confluence of rivers, with the only alteration in river course being in what flows below the dam. If you saw all the upended trees floating down the Susitna River every year in spring, you might rethink the force of the melting glaciers.

  11. Karla, please correct me if I’m wrong but the way it’s being reported down here in the lower 48 makes it seem as if the project is less for Alaska and more for “America”.

    That concerns me, because once again we are mining Alaska, this time for water, but it amounts to the same thing, we are taking and giving precious little back.

    Back in the 80’s and the 90’s financially strapped farmeres in Northern CA made the mistake of selling water rights to southern CA and now most of our water which could not only provide a lot of our electric needs but is essential to our own farming goes to Los Angeles lawns.

    The point I think is to be smart about natural resources and use them where they are for the benefit of the people there. If the nation would get behind tailored alternitve energy by region dictated and developed by each region I think we would all stand a better chance. And we could also specialize and trade better with one another.

  12. Grainne, neither our newspapers nor our legislators have announced intent to sell water from the dam project to the lower forty-eight, and you can bet your sweet booties that if Alaskans hear this is also in the plans, the resounding vote would be “no”. I honestly believe we can protect our environment using hydroelectricity. Technology has come a long way since the first great dams were built, with Iceland proving it can be done. Our wisest choice would be to follow in their footsteps, and not in those whose great concern for the environment has been so little, they allowed heavy industrialization and mining operations to pollute their waters, strip cut their forests, and decimate their wildlife.

    They created their own demise. As Will said, over-population is the biggest problem; that, and mass consumption. America consume the most commercial products of any country in the world. With all of its land mass, it crowds into the cities and suburbs, jeering at modest, small town people as country hicks, ignoring their needs and willfully using earth damaging energy because they don’t wish to sacrifice any of their own comforts.

    I know about the devastation brought about by diverting water to the wasteful, greedy cities; the cities that pop out babies like insects. Iowa has tapped all the way to its aquifers for water. Northern Colorado screams for its water rights while Denver opens its mouth and swallows. In San Jose, Ca., the agri-farmers are merrily sprinkling their crops, while in Northern California, trees are dying of thirst.

    The Arctic Rim is not responsible for their demise. While it has plenty of water resources, none of those resources should be used to the point of becoming unable to replace them. Our tundra is actually wetlands, with the water frozen close to the surface. There the lichen moss that the caribou feed on grows. The largest variety of our mainland wildlife prosper in the Kenai Peninsula’s vast wetlands, not to mention the marine life mammals that swim in the Inlet and Bristol Bay. We can only retain this environmental balance by retaining our water, not draining it off for sales.

    I have no problem, actually, with conserving and recycling glacial melt. The glaciers have been causing mass flooding and raising the sea levels, but i think twenty five years from now might be too late, which is probably a good thing. The cities are going into their death throes and the Arctic Rim should not be expected to hand them a lifeline.

  13. I don’t think overpopulation is actually the problem. The problem is that some extravagant people consume a thousand times what is necessary for their survival and well being. And then there’s idiots who throw food away.

    I think if our resources were utilized wisely and thoughtfully, the earth could support 10 billion people and feed them all.

    As it is now essentially 99% of the earth’s resources belong to 1% of the people IMO. And 7 billion idiots are fighting over scraps.

    Did you see the $100,000 car Justin Bieber got for his birthday?

  14. Your curious insistence on how improvements in technology can reduce the devastation of massive dams ignores two critical truths:

    1) Improvements in technology will bring tidal power, not massive dams, to viability. Alaska holds 90% of the country’s potential for tidal power, an estimated 125,000 megawatts. (The Susitna Dam would generate an average of 300 megawatts annually.) Tidal power along with geothermal power are Alaska’s energy future, especially in the Railbelt area the dam would serve. Timelines for tidal and geothermal’s economically and environmentally effective use range from 10 to 25 years. Natural gas is an extant bridge to them.

    2) The Susitna Dam is designed to be built to a maximum height of 885 feet which would make it the 5th tallest of 850,000 dams on earth. A dam of that magnitude is devastating to its ecosystem. Period. The enormity of the cost, the extent of environmental degradation, the minimal electricity produced, and the abundance of alternatives for electricity make the Susitna Dam not just unnecessary but megalomaniacal.

    The most precious commodity on the planet now is wild land. Wild land was once called, for 99% of human history, just land, earth, home. Continuing to overwhelm its last vestiges especially when there is no unavoidable need is insane, a legacy for generations to come of short-sighted, self-destructive ignorance.

    Richard Leo
    Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives

  15. @ W.D. Noble,

    “Instead of trying to whistle past the graveyard and pretend that we’re going to march into a bright, hydrogen/hydropower/solar-powered future, we’d better get used to the idea of watching half the planet starve to death because we wouldn’t control our populations – and trying to stay out of the way as the remaining half go to war for what resources remain.”

    Thus the reason I’ve been advocating preparation for war and social collapse – the reality here is that, as resources dwindle, the police state will only get stronger and stronger as it seeks to hoard more and more of what’s left for the ruling classes (fucking over the rest of us in the process): when all is said and done, only those prepared for the end of society as we know it (have a large stock of supplies, weapons [and the skills to use them] to repel the state and other rivals groups, have attained proficiency in wilderness survival, etc…) will have a *chance* to survive the coming nightmare – everyone else will either either make it by the skin of their teeth or (more likely) die (hence I write off those who have neither the means or willingness to prepare for coming darkness as dead).

    I have no reason to believe that all this positive talk of alternative fuels and such will amount to shit – there’s simply too much demand for energy and petrochemical resources to go around when peak oil hits: at that point only the fittest will survive…

  16. Apparently some people believe that we will be able to hold on to our technology even after civilization falls..

    I think it’s pretty obvious that every bit of machinery on earth uses petroleum products in some form.. to me this essentially means that once oil stops flowing, technological progress will come to a total halt.

    Without oil, every piece of technology on earth will be useless IMO. I believe even the means for developing alternative (non petroleum based) technology won’t be available without oil..

    Transportation on the earth today is entirely dependent on petroleum on many levels; not just energy.

    Mining is also pretty much impossible without oil. None of our industries can work without oil IMHO.

    I think it’s obvious that unless we invest everything we have on developing renewable energy right now, the odds of being able to do it after oil crashes are very slim. And once civilization itself crashes, we will be lucky if we survive at all.. I can’t see who is going to be developing new technology when there is no food, clean water or transportation.

  17. I think the worst part about the apocalypse for Americans is that they won’t be able to watch TV anymore.. I see mass suicides in the states, people going crazy without their solid 4 hours a day of subliminal brainwashing time.

    This almost makes me feel happy about the end of the world.

  18. I’m out of my league debating with Karla. Great job on a very timely subject. And it’s hard to believe how anyone can rationalize on how big oil is practical. I’d honestly rather dismantle our civilization than continue to explore dangerous gas/oil solutions.

    All I know is, I wish I were rich enough to afford free solar power!

  19. I’m no fan of oil Mitch. But can you deny that practically everything we use in our daily lives is either directly or indirectly derived from petroleum? I’m looking around me now and I think pretty much everything I see would not exist without oil..

    By my estimate, our entire civilization will be no more than a relic once oil is gone.. it’s not just that we won’t be able to fuel our cars; rather we won’t be able to make cars anymore.

    We won’t even be able to make plastic cups!

  20. richard lee, i’m very interested in the aspects of using tidal power, and geothermal has been one of my pet subjects, but you lost me by advocating natural gas. The natural gas companies have not been very nice, nor have they generated very appetizing policies.

    phd, my perception is this. We’ve had the technology to use other fuel sources than fossil fuels for at least fifty years. The oil companies have bought out the patents or threw obstacles in the way of alternative developments. It’s not as profitable for the big companies to develop products that use renewable resources, so they milk the earth for every last drop of oil, every field of natural gas, and are relaxing the laws for coal mines.

    Now we’re at a critical point. The earth can no longer withstand their onslaught and neither can the global economy. Yes, we will come to a complete standstill if the the fuel supplies are cut out because nothing substantial has been done to switch to renewable energy sources, and nothing is going to be done as long as we continue to accept oil and gas development as our “transition”. The companies will play us for every cent we are worth.

    I think the Susitna Dam project is probably too massive for the citizens to accept it as is. Our hydroelectric dams are generally created to be fish friendly, with ladders for them to climb and pools to swim in. Most likely it will be passed around and altered many times until a scaled down version is created. Many issues have been brought up and i’ve paid close attention to them. I still feel however, at least for Alaska, hydroelectric is a step in the right direction.

    Will, Azazel and phd may be right. It could already be too late. The foundation for alternative energy should have been set in place at least twenty years ago. All we can do is scramble now and hope somehow we’ll survive the next crisis; and the next one after that and after that, like dominoes tumbling until we all fall down.

  21. I think the best we can do now is to start finding ways to power our own houses. I believe every area of the earth has some form of energy to harness.. And I don’t think it would cost too much or generally be too difficult to power a single house. It just needs a little imagination and ingenuity.

    We could let our kids do it.

  22. And karlsie, I don’t share your dislike of oil and natural gas, because after all they are natural resources on the earth like air and water.

    In Iran, contrary to the rest of the world, oil and natural gas are off limits to big oil. They are seen as a national resource here and the government is doing everything it can to use them wisely.

    I believe Iran is actually trying to use its petroleum as a means of transition to better alternatives. Right now they’re working on nuclear power, but solar and hydroelectric are quite common in Iran. Large areas of Iran are powered entirely by hydroelectricity.

    And I think it’s very wise to bury nuclear power plants under hundreds of feet of earth like they are doing in Iran. And not just to avoid Israeli airstrikes, but because if something goes wrong or if a meltdown occurs the environmental impact will be negligible.

    Nuclear power plants belong under the earth IMO, not on top of it.

  23. Nuclear power plants do not belong anywhere in the vacinity of the Earth IMO, but deep under may be the only place for the nuclear waste we have already created.

  24. ET, i don’t dislike oil and natural gas simply because they are oil and natural gas. I dislike the big companies that control these resources. These big companies do enormous damage when a spill occurs and they are the same companies that control natural gas, yet they are screaming the loudest about environmental impact. They don’t give a flying turd ball about the environment. They’re just upset that Alaska is resigning its efforts for a natural gas pipeline, and placing its money in renewable energy. It’s a case of the pot calling the firing pan black.

    These big companies control the prices of fossil fuel energy and are the main motivation behind all the wars being waged against the Mideast. They have absolutely no regard for human life. Human life to them is as disposable a product as the plastics they make. Oil should have been as transitional a fuel product as coal, but the companies don’t wish to make the transition because if they do, they lose their high profit margin. It would be wonderful if individually, we could draw upon our own renewable energy source, but with pockets emptying out just for heat and for driving to work and back every day, there’s nothing left for home improvement, let alone investing in another energy source.

    As Will said, the biggest problem with non-renewable energy, no matter how safely you build the power plants, is that non-renewable means it will eventually run out. Uranium is a limited resource; it’s non-renewable; and so are fossil fuels. Our billions of people will suck up the last of these resources within twenty-five years. As a civilization, we are stagnating under the terms of big oil and we are leaving absolutely nothing for the future of the children. I will advocate for a more scaled down version of the Susitna Dam. I will advocate for wind and geothermal power along with hydroelectric, but i will not advocate for the very companies that were given a chance to built transitional technology and failed us.

  25. karlsie, uranium is again (ideally) a transition phase to fusion technology.

    I believe if we take the sun, our ultimate source of energy, as reference, it becomes clear that atomic fusion is among the most efficient sources of energy in the universe. It is the act of making matter vanish and getting energy in return.. It is the mother of all renewable energy sources.

  26. karlsie, you make it sound like you (plural) are wretched poor. I hope you’re exaggerating.

  27. phd, let’s put it this way. Typical Alaskans works until they can afford land, than works to build a house on it. They put in a driveway, septic and well as funds allow. While mortgaging their land to build was an option in the past, few want to mortgage anymore, considering the number of foreclosures that have occurred. Until a few years ago, most Alaskans lived pretty comfortably, even the ones considered lower income. Nearly all our goods and over half our food products are transported by land or sea. The prices of these foods and products have quadrupled over the last few years but the wage remains the same. These land owning Alaskans often commute an average of sixty miles a day as available land is far from the city hub. The price of gas has gotten so high, many people have been forced to quit commuting and try and find work close to their rural homes. Gas and heating prices have been taking nearly their entire paychecks. Add to our woes, we are coming out of the coldest winter on record, with one more winter month left to go. We are desperate to get out from under the thumbs of oil and natural gas companies. There have even been ads on the television lately telling the big companies to get out; it’s our oil. We are determined, as a whole, as a people who own the land, to convert to renewable energy because it’s the right thing to do. We want the big companies out, and we want them to take their slime ball tactics with them.

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