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What's behind the Energy Crisis?

   By Jerry Gentry Page 1 2 Plain Truth Feb, 1971

The western world — especially the United States — is on an astounding energy binge.
Authorities are concerned wondering where we will get the fuel to supply our burgeoning cry for MORE ENERGY.
Few, however, ask the most basic questions of all:
Should we as a society be so utterly dependent on nonrenewable energy sources?
Should we continue to use ever greater amounts of energy?


“BRNNG . . . bring . . . bring" — your electric clock goes off right on time!

You sleepily roll out of bed, and reach for the light switch. Of course, the light comes on just as you expected.

The house is cold. You stumble into the hallway where the heater thermostat is located and adjust the oil or gas furnace to the "comfort range."

You find your way to the bathroom, fumbling for your electric razor just a flick of the razor switch is your assurance of a clean shave. Next comes a quick shower and you hurriedly get dressed.

You seldom — if ever — stop to consider: Suppose the electrical power suddenly went off, and stayed off, in your home? No, you aren't even thinking of any "energy crisis" as you rush in for breakfast. Your wife has fresh orange juice squeezed in her new electric juicer. The refrigerator has assured your family of fresh milk and eggs, which might have spoiled otherwise. You sit down to your toast from the electric toaster and eggs cooked over our gas, or electric range. A cup of piping hot coffee, percolated in your electric coffee maker, hits the spot. Soon you are off to work.


A Morning at Home

But what about you, the wife at home?

You begin the household "chores" of washing dishes in your automatic dishwasher. "What a work saver this is," you think as you arrange the soiled dishes and pour in the detergent.

The floors are dirty, and this calls for help. So out comes the electric vacuum cleaner from the closet. The clothes hamper in the bathroom is overflowing, and must be taken care of. Into the automatic washer go the soiled clothes. And no clothesline worries you — an electric or gas dryer does the job.

Stop and consider for a moment.

You have already used some 16 electrical, gas- or oil-fired appliances in the course of just one morning. Actually, American homes have available for use over 200 separate electrical gadgets. These exclude gas- or oil-powered machines such as a lawnmower or the automobile.

One person was recently challenged to compile a list of the electrical gadgets in his home. To his astonishment he found a total of 67 items — nearly one third of those available!

The newest of these mechanical servants is the "garbage crunching" device for compacting household solid waste before putting it into the garbage can. Another is the electrically heated comb for men, to match the wife's electric rollers.


Our "Mechanical Maids"

To power these mechanical devices, Americans use more than 8 trillion horsepower-hours of energy every year.

Imagine having to stable the number of actual horses necessary to do this much work.

Much of this 8 trillion horsepower-hours is at the immediate beck and call of Americans. Each American has at his fingertips, on the average, the equivalent of the energy expended by 500 human slaves.

This means, according to Los Angeles Times science writer Irving Bengelsdorf, that the true population of the U.S. is 200 million people PLUS100 billion energy-slaves, making a total human equivalent of 100,200,000,000 working servants.

This represents our total impact upon the environment. But the noxious wastes from our energy-slaves are far more difficult to deal with than mere human wastes.

Nevertheless, Americans especially continue to develop new energy-consuming gadgets.

The amount of electricity produced to power the gadgets — and industry — was 1.6 trillion kilowatt-hours in 1970. Within a decade, authorities estimate, Americans will consume TWICE the yearly power they presently use.

This trend of a more voracious power consumption has forced utility companies to build increasingly larger power-generating plants. Some are capable of producing at the rate of one million kilowatt-hours or more. A plant of this size gulps 9000 tons of coal each day. As a result, an estimated 300 million tons of coal were fed into American steam-electric plants during 1970 alone! Transporting this vast amount of coal is an enormous task for America's railroads.

Authorities note that industry uses about 41% of the U.S. electrical supply; homes and commercial users divide up 49% between them. The remaining 10% is lost in transmission.


Reaching the Critical Point

How critical is the electrical supply?

In 1965, history's largest electric power failure plunged 80,000 square miles of America's Eastern Seaboard into darkness. Experts predict more such "blackouts" and "brownouts."

During the 1969-1970 winter, 39 of 181 large U.S. utility companies had less than 10% electrical reserves for an emergency.

And more recently, Britain's 125,000 electrical workers went on strike, plunging huge masses of her population into darkness, curtailing industry, and wreaking havoc with city traffic when street lights failed.

Yet, worldwide energy demands, both private and commercial, continue to increase.

Americans alone are expected to demand just as much electric energy in the next 10 years as they did in the preceding 90 years — a total of at least 18,000,000,000,000 (18 trillion) kilowatt-hours.

Said Dr. Wilson M. Laird, Director, Office of Oil and Gas, U.S. Department of the Interior, in a speech delivered on March 5, 1970: "We are entering a period of growing scarcity in energy — of all kinds, and the ironic thing is that we go on acting as though our supply is endless . . . gas distributing companies continue to run full-page ads touting their product . . . We continue to build and aggressively merchandise every conceivable kind of appliance that can be attached to an electric power line, including whole-house electric heating requiring three times the expenditure of energy as oil or gas."

Americans are not alone in their voracious appetite for electric power. Other industrial nations are also consuming ever-greater amounts of energy. Canadians and Norwegians, on a man-for-man basis, consume more electricity than do Americans.

Can Americans continue to supply and distribute the growing energy requirements that double every 10 years or less? What effect will this have on earth's complex — and in many ways fragile — ecological interrelationships?

Should we use so much energy? Ought we to reconsider the unrestricted, uncontrolled devouring of nonrenewable "fossil fuels" as our main source of energy?


Where Electricity Comes From

At present the vast majority of our electricity comes from steam-generating plants powered by coal, oil, and natural gas.

From the start of the Machine Age, coal has been the most significant energy source. By 1950, the earth had yielded 80 BILLION tons of coal. Petroleum came into use later than coal. Even so, by 1950 over 70 BILLION barrels of oil had been piped from the earth.

These energy sources, combined with natural gas, provide over 95% of the total energy expenditure (including automobile gasoline) in the United States. Nuclear and hydro-power make up the remainder.

But continually increasing energy demands are putting great stress on production. The problem has not been clearly understood by the public.

"In the first place," said Mr. Harry Perry, Senior Specialist, Environmental Policy Division, Library of Congress, "two out of three of our fossil fuels are in short supply . . . secondly, the fossil fuels are, as is nuclear [energy) in other directions, a detriment to the environment."

Coal, oil and natural gas — which are responsible for about 80% of the electricity produced by our electric power plants — must be drilled or mined, processed and transported to a power plant before electrical energy can be generated. The gigantic task of producing and transporting enough coal for just one electric power plant is staggering. A plant located in the Mojave Desert in the Western United States gulps some 200 railway carloads of coal in just one day's time.

And there are literally hundreds of power plants over the United States and Canada requiring such huge coal tonnages. As more and more coal is used up, companies must turn to deeper deposits, veins with less thickness, or deposits hundreds of miles from the generating plants.

We asked Mr. Brice O'Brien, Vice President of the National Coal Association, how energy problems rank today in our list of national priorities. "We have used the cream of the crop, we're running out of that. From now on we're going to have to pay for energy," he warned.

Costs of mining increase, and so do costs for transporting all this coal. Profits disappear. These and other problems are beginning to result in actual coal shortages for utility companies.


T.V.A. Troubles

Tennessee Valley Authority (T.V.A.) is the largest buyer of coal in the United States. In 1969, it purchased 32 million tons of coal. "If you piled it up," James Watson, Manager of Power for T.V. A. told PLAIN TRUTH reporters, "and put it all on a football field, it would reach more than five miles in the air."

T.V.A. has been receiving only about 80% of its coal needs, thus creating a real pinch. During December, when we visited T.V.A., it was down to a 29-day supply. Most utility companies have less than about 30 days' supply, several less than two weeks.

Even though the U.S. exports only 10% of the coal it mines, domestic users are complaining this is too much. In some cases they claim coal companies have cut short their commitments to domestic electric utilities in favor of FOREIGN CUSTOMERS offering higher prices. Normally, high quality metallurgical coal is exported to foreign steel producers. More recently, Japan has been forced to buy U.S. utility grade coal for use with other grades of coal to make steel.

Coupled with these problems, the shortage of railroad hopper cars often halts the flow of coal from the fields to the power plants. T.V.A.'s James Watson also commented to us: "We have a shortage tilt amounts to something like 100,000 tons of coal a week that we could get if we had sufficient cars." Some steam plants could run out of coal this winter if the supply is not improved.

Some train cars have sat in port for weeks, or longer before ships arrived to take coal overseas. And the thought of a railroad workers' strike doesn't exactly put utilities companies at ease.


Strip Mining Devastation

Scrambling to meet market demands and to cut costs, coal companies turn to the method of strip mining to supply customers.

The strip mining method is perhaps the most devastating means available for obtaining coal. It accounts for one third of America's 500 million ton annual output.

Some 3.2 million acres in the United States alone have been torn up by strip mining. That is roughly equal in size to the U.S. state of Connecticut, or to Northern Ireland in the British Isles. And most of this land — about 66% — lies barren and unreclaimed, a monument to man's greed and destructiveness.

Of the 34% of "reclaimed" land, half has been rejuvenated only by forces of nature, not by the men who devastated it. Reclamation of stripped land is expensive, and seldom carried out by the companies who "mine" the coal. There are a few notable projects, however, where companies have leveled the land, planted trees, stocked artificial ponds with fish, and made other amends.

Yet, we can easily understand how difficult it is to "put it all back like it was."


Incompatible With Ecology

Furthermore, the resource being dug — coal, in this case — pollutes the air we breathe. Mr. Harry Perry, quoted earlier, told our staff: "No energy form is completely compatible with ecology. Nuclear energy generates thermal pollution. It also has a radioactivity problem . . . Fossil fuels have the problem of oxides of nitrogen and sulfur oxides . . . and ash."

The burning of coal creates clouds of sulphur oxide and other pollutants which engulf cities and destroy health. Lower-quality coal is less desirable because it pollutes more. This becomes a serious problem, when we realize that two thirds of the coal produced east of the Mississippi River will not meet present pollution standards because it is too high in sulphur content!

Some areas like the city of Chicago have even rescinded anti-sulphur pollution laws so that low-grade coal could be used. It was either this alternative or simply no power!

And so modern man charges onward in the name of Technological Progress.