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Using nature to solve energy issues

A View From the Edge

Too many people try and find ways to solve energy and food issues by making false claims, or building completely new technologies, or, worst of all, trying to tame nature. Hydro-electric dams are a case in point… stopping the flow of a river, creating a flood plain lake destroys the environment and wildlife in favor of a reliable electricity source — until the lake dries up of course (see Lake Mead this summer!).

For centuries, shoreline people have used the ebb and flow of the tide to catch fish in nets and basket “corrals.” Anyone who has moored a boat ashore at high tide knows that it will be high and dry after a while until the next high tide.

And everyone who lives near the shore knows that the tidal schedule varies by hours up and down the coast. Imagine you’re in Virginia Beach today. The tide will be high at 4:20 a.m. and again at 5:10 p.m. (See? Not exactly 12 hours apart, tides are governed by the moon’s orbit, which varies a little.) But if you’re in Rockport, Maine, high tides today are at 7:20 a.m. and again at 8:10 p.m. — three hours later!

Now imagine you have a Tidal Energy Converter system to put on the ocean floor, especially on the floor where there are strong rip tides and dangerous currents safely away from swimming beaches.

Looking like underwater slowly revolving propeller blades (about 11 rotations a minute), these generators capture the water tidal currents — ebb and flow — and convert them into electricity. But the joy of these systems is that they do not interrupt sea life, they do not interrupt lobster fishermen, they do not change currents, they are out of visual sight and, importantly — remember the difference between high tide times up and down the coast? They can provide a constant generation of electricity when all coupled to the national grid.

Oh, and with people getting electric cars, most of whom will charge at night, the night time generation by wave and tidal flow will supply future needs without one nuclear plant being built.

Now, what’s the cost? Here’s the trick: If the government would underwrite the loans, Wall Street would throw money at this power generation system because the regulations (environmental and risk assessment) are tiny compared to a new nuclear plant and collectively, for the same initial cost, they are about the same — without the 5,000 years for storage of nuclear waste).

Now, you complain, the government has to underwrite (guarantee) the loans? Well, yes. Like we did building roads across America that underwrote the car industry and airports for the plane industry and… the list is long (like that cell phone you are using). And please remember, in 2008 we underwrote those two car companies directly to keep people in work. And that money came back with interest.

With an estimate of 30% of all electricity soon being needed for AC running across the nation, what could make better sense than a generating system, clean, offshore, out of sight, not ruining nature? California alone could save themselves from brownouts this summer if only they had planned better by seeking to mimic the flow of nature, not tame it.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now resides in New Mexico.

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