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Home » Archives » April 2011 » Energy: Plan Now

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04/23/2011: "Energy: Plan Now"


The population of San Juan County as of the 2010 Census is 15,769. We’re expected to grow to around 22,500 by 2025. Our population doubles for several months each year. We use on average 26.6 Megawatts of power every moment. That’s going to grow to a little over 35 megawatts in 15 years. There are over 19,000 vehicles, 600 boats, and nearly 300 aircraft registered in the county. We are consuming several million gallons or more of hydrocarbon fuels every year. Our way of life, as we live it now, is dependent on affordable, reliable energy imported to the Islands.

The Whitehouse released “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future” on March 31, 2011. It outlines steps that have been taken, and plans that need to be put into place to improve the country’s energy situation. It acknowledges that; “The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity and security on a resource that will eventually run out.

Whether or not you are a believer in “Peak Oil” depends on what sources you consult and what experts you trust. But assume for a moment that “Peak Oil” describes an approaching reality. What could, and what should we do about it here in the San Juan Islands?

Planning, investments, and actions which make us more self sufficient with respect to food and energy security should be given a high priority.

For example, excellent work has been, and is being done, by the Agricultural Resources Committee, the Agriculture Guild, the Conservation District, and other groups in defending and promoting the importance of the soils and farming in the County. According to the ARC, “18,288 acres of the islands’ 114,689 acres are classified as prime farmland.” And, “Cornell researchers estimated that a diverse diet requires 1.2 acres to feed one person.” If all of the farmland was in production, we could get closer to feeding ourselves. We should be doing all we can to encourage and expand our agricultural resources.

OPALCO has been doing a great job in educating us on how to conserve energy, and in promoting the MORE (Member Owned Renewable Energy) program. Currently, 64 members are producing over 200 KW of power and making some of it available to the grid. The first large wind turbine could be going into operation on Lopez island this summer. The Lopez Common Grounds project includes a 33 KW solar panel array. We need to embrace and expand projects like these. Some communities in the US are approaching the 50% point in locally generated renewable energy. This would be an ambitious goal for us! Consideration should be given to larger scale community owned sources. A large solar array could fit in the bottom of the gravel pit and barely be noticed! Snohomish PUD (Snopud) and Tacoma Power are exploring tidal power projects, and this is a possibility for us, if environmental considerations can be met by developing technologies.

Longer term, we should consider “growing” our own gasoline, diesel, and other hydrocarbon fuels. Serious R&D efforts, with multi-hundred million dollar funding levels are underway to commercialize large scale algae to biofuel processes. Two examples worth watching are Synthetic Genomics in San Diego and Joule Unlimited in Cambridge, MA. This is an area with plenty of true believers and even more skeptics! But if, for example, Joule is successful, we could grow our own fuel at a rate of several thousand gallons per acre per year, without using food crops or prime farm land.

The people of the San Juan Islands have always displayed resourcefulness and ingenuity. Take a good look through the excellent book “Images of America " San Juan Island” by Mike and Julia Vouri and the San Juan Historical Society. The people in those images made a life here, facing the challenges of food and energy daily. We may face that challenge again. And now is the time to secure our energy future!

Vince Dauciunas
Friday Harbor
(Vince is a candidate for the Opalco Board of Directors, District 1)



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