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Energy Quest USA from PBS

Posted on the 12 June 2012 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Energy Quest USA from PBS

As part of their Earth Day programming, PBS premiered two programs, Energy Quest USA and Powering the Planet. These one-hour documentaries followed up last year’s EARTH: The Operators’ Manual. Energy Quest USA features five areas throughout the USA and the strides they are taking to move toward sustainable energy. Two of these are in the heart of oil producing regions, Alaska and Texas. The documentary focused on small towns and the shift in energy policy that has led some of them to be powered almost exclusively by renewable sources.

On picturesque Kodiak Island in Alaska, hydroelectric and wind turbines work together to supply power to the 14,000 residents. Estimates from the power company suggest the island could run on 100% renewable energy by the end of the decade. Currently expensive diesel fuel is shipped in, but costs have risen to the point where using biomass to heat buildings is more economic.

Chena Hot Springs in Alaska uses geothermal to both generate power and grow produce during winter by heating greenhouses. The plan for the Hot Springs Resort is to be self-sufficient in food production. In addition to the hot springs providing ambient heat for the greenhouse, the resort uses LEDs as grow lights, which consume a fraction of the energy as compared to tradition lights. Chena Hot Springs also hosts an annual renewable energy fair, with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) as one of the keynote speakers. She says “I’m a Republican. Republicans by definition seem to be more conservative. What is more conservative than harnessing what is available and around us in a long term and sustainable way?” This point flies in the face of the partisan approach to clean, renewable energy.

The documentary shifts to the Fort Worth, Texas area and the boom in shale gas production. Fracking has allowed access to the shale gas, where historically it was uneconomical. Debate over fracking and its role in the contamination of drinking water, potential health impacts, and implications on seismic activity make shale gas a tricky proposition. Rensselaer Polytechnic’s President Shirley Ann Jackson argues that a lifecycle analysis of shale gas production is essential. One way to reduce the impact of fracking that has been employed in Texas is using reclaimed water instead of potable, drinking water. While there are numerous other issues, the gas produced by fracking burns some 50% cleaner than coal when used for electricity generation.

Also in the heart of the country, 16 towns in Kansas are featured. The towns took part in the Climate + Energy Project’s “Take Charge Challenge”, a contest aimed at saving energy. Making a similar argument to Senator Murkowski, Nancy Jackson, founder of the Climate + Energy Project, is quoted as saying it’s time to “put the ‘conserve’ back in conservative.” Ranking 48th out of 50 states in terms of energy efficiency, Kansas is ripe for energy conservation. A report from the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) says that energy efficiency measures could yield $700 billion in savings across the country. Lighting comprises 15% of the typical home energy bill and 13% of the energy consumption in both residential and commercial buildings combined. Baldwin City, Kansas won the competition amongst the 16 towns.

Baltimore, Maryland served as an urban example of energy savings and conservation. Taking a similar approach to Kansas, Baltimore employed an energy challenge in addition to “energy captains” who worked with specific neighborhoods. Water was also a major concern among BNEC, the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge, participants. A nearly 13% decrease for one of the most under-served neighborhoods (Park Heights) led the competition. The energy captains were recognized for their ability to rally citizens. After their success, Park Heights won a grant to continue working on energy conservation, with the goal of working with schools as the next step.

Portland, Oregon was the final area highlighted. One of the measures the city has taken to curb expansion is the “urban growth boundary” which prohibits sprawl. Funding was directed toward mass transit and bicycling instead of focusing on highways. Many bikes available in Portland serve multiple purposes, like carrying packages and food. B-line was featured as a company that has displaced more than 25,000 truck and van deliveries in two and a half years. With all of the focus on alternative transit, the average Portland resident drives 20% less than the average American. The next step may be electric vehicles for both personal transportation and truck deliveries. Walkable and bike friendly neighborhoods are also part of the future in Portland, yielding what is referred to as a 20-minute neighborhood. The idea would be that most any need of residents would be found in a short walk.

The documentary ends with Professor Richard Alley framing the discussion in terms of an operating manual for earth, a nod to Buckminster Fuller.

Watch Energy Quest USA Preview on PBS. See more from EARTH: The Operators Manual.

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