SustainAbility: Meetings on water, powerlines
This past Monday, I attended two events and couldn’t help but notice the contrast between them.
One was a public scoping for a power transmission line and the other was a presentation about biofuels.
Now I realize this is a lot like comparing kiwis and kumquats.
The power lines carry electricity that can provide energy for homes and businesses alike. Biofuels are primarily used to power vehicles.
What really stood out was the scale of the two projects.
The process to create a new transmission line is costly, complicated and time-consuming.
After years of planning comes the intense process of an environmental impact study, including public input and purchasing easements. All this takes place before any construction can even begin.
This massive project will transport high-voltage direct current from wind farms in Wyoming to Las Vegas. That’s right. This green power will travel more than 700 miles to power the air conditioners, swimming pool pumps and bright lights of Vegas.
There is no doubt Wyoming has more than its share of wind, and I don’t know enough about the TransWest Express undertaking to pass final judgment.
To learn more about the transmission project, go to http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/documents/hdd/transwest.html or http://www.transwestexpress.net/.
I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way to power Las Vegas. Maybe something more local could work. What if wise use of energy was the norm and solar panels or film were placed on every building?
Shifting gears, the other presentation was about a research project conducted by the Western Colorado Carbon Neutral Bioenergy Consortium (WCCNBC).
Colorado Mountain College is partnering with Colorado State University and Flux Farm Foundation to explore options for using local plant materials and processing them for local use at a small-scale plant built by CMC students. Professor Jon Prater is program coordinator for process technology at the college.
According to the website, the five-year research project will test “the capacity of the region to grow low-input, hi-biomass, cellulosic perennial bioenergy crops.”
Grasses and cacti will be grown in Fruita, Rifle and Carbondale. Grown in marginal soils, the crops will not compete for land with food crops.
The material will be converted to butanol at the CMC West Garfield Campus in one of the few biomass processing facilities located at a community college. According to Prater, this endeavor will produce butanol which can be pumped into your car right now, no conversion necessary.
Butanol is more efficient than ethanol and will be tested in vehicles owned by CMC and the city of Rifle. Prater expects the facility to be up and running in about six weeks.
Prater sees the production of biofuels as a stable pillar of local economies. The biofuels enterprise will stimulate agriculture and give rise to industry required to convert biomass to biofuels. The result will be a carbon neutral fuel supply.
Biomass waste or “bottoms” are made into pellets and can be tailored for cattle feed, wood stove pellets or a fertilizer supplement. Ninety percent of the water used is recycled in the process.
Another appealing aspect of the biofuels project is how easily the plant can be replicated in other areas.
Prater explained that the old oil refinery in Fruita could easily be refurbished to produce butanol.
Go to http://www.wccnbc.org/current-projects.html to watch a short video about the consortium’s project.
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