KEN JOHNSON: It takes nonrenewables to make renewable energy

Ken Johnson
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Illustration courtesy of MEC
Staff Photo |

A few weeks ago I was reminded of an “easy-to-digest” fact of life: Just about everything on this earth is connected to everything else. Even when it comes to energy and electricity.

Move one part, other parts move.

If we can keep this in mind, maybe we can start to solve the riddle of how we humans seem to leap on “obvious” knowledge. Like the idea that “renewable energy” is both smart and easy.

I hope we can agree that while it may be smart, it sure ain’t easy.

Sort of “yes” we should be adopting this free juice from the sun, ocean waves, wind, cow poop and anything else that works.

Sort of “no” it will be neither easy nor cheap. It is hard and it sure isn’t cheap.

(For the record I disclose that, yes, I have solar panels on my roof and send juice BACK to the power company; I’m glad I do it. Plus son number one is a professional engineer laboring in the alternatives field for a lot of years already.)

There are some things that interfere with our goals.

Costs? Things like the raw materials to make the wind towers or solar panels. The transportation to get them to a place they can be used. The materials used to put in those secure foundations so all the goodies can attach to Mother Earth. The tax credits that make them affordable at all, which, of course, come out of our common pocket.

Then operating costs come along, too. How do you keep them clean and all working as they should, year after year?

The list kind of goes on and on, even if the goal is worthwhile.

Can we go back to some basics for a moment?

Max Krey is a geologist and one of our local “good guys.” He has successfully pursued gas drilling for years in nearby exotic locations like Cisco, Utah, as well as becoming an expert in understanding how things tie together.

Recently, he shared some data with me about how Americans actually, in real life, use our resources. The Minerals Education Coalition keeps track of the “Minerals Baby,” year by year. It is astonishing information, and despite our slow withdrawal from “fossil fuels” (oil/gas/coal) to slow the increasing rate of climate change, not much will happen overnight.

As much as we want things to change RIGHT NOW, it’s still going to be a step at a time, a year at a time. We just need to keep working on it, with a plan and a common understanding of how things link up.

Every American born today, during their lifetime, will need 38,212 pounds of NEW minerals each year for all 78.7 years they should live. Plus some things like lithium to make batteries. Add them up:

Oh, about those alternative electric sources. To make solar panels, we need at least glass, sand, aluminum, copper, a lot of sophisticated machinery, some concrete and steel; a way to tie to the electric grid; plus a lot of gasoline and diesel to move the pieces to the job site and install.

Right now, to just keep today’s lifestyle going (and our wants seem to be growing), we each need 906 gallons of petroleum, 5,666 pounds of coal, 84,348 cu. ft. of natural gas and 1/4 pound of uranium. And that’s just for electricity.

Thanks, Max, for helping us look at our future. Now we need to figure out how to make some modest changes so we can all get there.(Note: Energy and electricity are different, by the way. It takes energy from some source to produce usable electricity.)

Ken is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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