Letters 07/09/2009

July 7, 2009
Readers responded to a request to send in their experiences with E85, the gasoline/ethanol blend meant to curb our appetite for foreign oil while cleaning up the environment.

Ethanol and wind: Scams or saviors?
Readers responded to a request to send in their experiences with E85, the gasoline/ethanol blend meant to curb our appetite for foreign oil while cleaning up the environment. It seems E85 might not do either. And readers are still divided on getting electricity from the wind.

E85: Is it worth it?
I own a GMC pickup and a Chevy Monte Carlo, both of which can run on E85. I generally find I can’t justify E85 on a cost basis. I usually see a 15 to 20% loss in mileage, which also means more frequent stops to fill up. This equates to a higher overall cost for E85. There are a couple of stations in my area that carry E85, but when traveling it is not easy to track down stations that have it. Some locations are listed on the Internet.

Marvin Clark

I drive a 2004 Chevy Suburban. It typically gets 16 mpg. The one time I put in a full tank of E85, I only got disappointed. Mileage went down to 11 mpg and the truck ran rough. It even stalled out at a stop light. I won’t be doing that again any time soon.

Julie Oxender

I had a 2001 Chevy S10 with the 2.2-liter, 4I, flex-fuel engine, and I experimented with using E85. The truck would run on any combination of gasoline and E85 with no difference in driving performance. But while the range on a full tank of gas was 400 miles, on E85 the range went down to 310 miles. This led me to the economic conclusion that if a gallon of E85 were to cost roughly 25% less than gas, it would be cheaper to run the truck on E85. But, here in the Minnesota, E85 is heavily subsidized to bring the consumer price in line with that of gas and no lower, making E85 an uneconomical alternative. However, as fuel prices fluctuate, it is possible, though not very often, to find the E85 priced 25% below gas. I’m all for cheap fuels, but I do not believe E85 is the solution.

Peter Llendway

Still talking about wind power
I generally enjoy reading your editorials, and agree that wind power alone will not solve our energy needs (“Not enough juice,” May 21). However, I was surprised and disappointed that you extrapolated from the lead time for a single order of wind turbines to the total time required to set up a much larger number of wind turbines. It is like saying that you heard three women in your church are pregnant, and because it takes nine months to bring the baby to term, it will take 25 years before 100 new babies are born in town. For all I know, there could be 100 babies born in your town next year. The instance cited is not sufficient to determine the number of women in your town that may have babies next year.

I was also surprised you stated that “utilities will be burning more petroleum products to avoid passing onerous carbon taxes onto ratepayers.” This seems to imply that carbon taxes would not apply to oil. Oil certainly is not carbon free. In fact, most of oil’s weight comes from its carbon content. Although oil does generates between 1.5 and 2.4 times the energy per pound that coal does, the difference in taxes will be compensated for by differences in the price per pound (or barrel). And we know oil prices can increase or decrease quite rapidly in response to demand.

I agree that wind will never supply most of the electricity needed by the U.S. But it is obvious that diversifying our generating capacity is important if we want a secure supply of electricity in the future. Both wind and direct solar generators could provide valuable contributions to this country’s electricity need, especially if used together. People trying to be independent of the power grid often find the combination of solar and wind with a common battery backup is the best solution.

The U.S. currently gets it electricity from coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, and hydropower, with a miniscule contribution from geothermal, wind, and solar. None of these is the “best” method. We will always need a mix. It is important to look at the total picture and determine how the mix should change rather than concentrating on just one method.

John M. Rinaldo

With regard to carbon taxes, coal costs about one-fifth as much as oil but contains one-third more carbon per unit of electricity delivered. So carbon taxes are an incentive to replace coal with oil. With regard to total world capacity for wind, consider this: According to the World Energy Assessment report published by the United Nations Development Program, the total energy consumed on the Earth right now is about 13 terawatts. The total kinetic energy available from wind, even making use of low-windspeed areas, the planet, comes to between 2 and 4 terawatts. Thus, as I said in the editorial, wind can never be more than a niche solution.

There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to make money from the wind industry. But I believe it is quite misleading when a certain Texas oilman gets on TV and claims we can free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil by generating 22% of our electrical needs from the wind.

Two years ago, wind-industry executives figured that generating 10% of U.S. electrical needs from wind would be an aggressive stretch goal given the practicalities of wind-farm logistics. I suspect they were right. For all I know, they may still feel this way but don’t want to rain on the parade of renewable energy hoopla. — Leland Teschler

I about fell out of my chair after reading the editorial on wind power. I have been waiting years for someone to finally state the obvious and expose the wind “solution” for the sham it is. Anyone with a few years of experience in the energy sector would know instinctively that wind energy is a boondoggle of colossal proportions.

The problem lies in the fact that the statement “the wind is free” shuts everyone’s brain off. Any reasonable consideration of major energy infrastructure solutions would include all costs, including capital and interest, maintenance, and feedstock.

By way of comparison, current coal-fired solutions deliver electricity to consumers for 10¢/kW-hr. The coal component of this retail price is approximately 0.8¢. So even if coal were absolutely free, electricity would still cost consumers 9.2¢/kW-hr.

With wind mills, capital costs per kilowatt-hour are probably four times those for coal-fired plants, and the maintenance issues are extremely onerous. Denmark, the supposed flagship of enlightened wind energy, needs to get 36¢/kW-hr to harvest this “free” wind. And Danes have had to foot the bill for new coal plants (so much for the green factor) to back up the windmills because of their 30 to 40% availability.

The first clue to the dubious nature of any energy solution is the fact that there is some kind of taxpayer subsidy involved. Like ethanol and many solar plants, wind energy will not stand on it’s own, and has already drained billions of investment dollars that should have been used on more rational approaches. In the context of current financial conditions, chasing dead ends is not only ignorant, it’s dangerous.

If a country like the U.S. is going to seek alternative energy scenarios, the discussion has must begin by establishing the lowest product price as the ultimate engineering and societal goal.

Mike Vande Voort

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