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Story Tools

Date of Issue: April 29, 2009


Power presents myriad challenges, opportunities in area

Empowerment, be it good or ill, is looming on Anna Maria Island’s horizon.

Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico as near as 3 miles from shore.

Alternative energy plants on property near Port Manatee.

Rejection of solar power in Sarasota.

And — gasp! — the threat of global extermination by cooking over open fire in India.

Oh, the horror.

Oil offshore

The Florida House of Representative Policy Council voted last week to allow drilling for oil within offshore state waters. The move could allow drilling out to 10 miles from shore.

The word “could” is important. The council decision moves the matter to the full membership of the House and, if it meets that body’s approval, the Florida Senate, and then Gov. Charlie Crist must approve the measure.

There are a whole lot of folks who must sign off on a controversial matter that was broached so late in the legislative session with little debate or notice. The session is slated to end May 1.

The bill calls for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to develop rules for nearshore drilling, then submit the proposal to the governor and cabinet for final authorization. It is estimated that billions of dollars could flow into state coffers if oil companies pony up their big bucks to drill.

Drilling for oil in Gulf waters off Florida has been a contentious issue for decades. Environmentalists have fought the matter on grounds that any spill or seepage from oil rigs would irreparably damage fragile coastal regions.

Tourism officials warn that the threat of a spill could devastate the purity of fine white beach sand, thereby slashing the huge tourism dollars that flow to Florida from folks who want to enjoy the sun, sand and surf the Sunshine State offers.

One house panel vote does not a rule make, but as with many matters: Stay tuned.

Going green

Alternative energy could be coming, or at least generated, locally in the near future.

FB Energy of Bradenton is proposing a $185 million, 60-megawatt electric generation facility using plant material to provide electricity to Progress Energy, which in turn supplies power to Lakewood Ranch and parts of Hillsborough County. The biomass plant would be located near Port Manatee in northern Manatee County.

Approval must come from the Manatee County Commission. And, not to be without its controversy, pollution concerns have been voiced about the operation.

According to FB Energy, it would use Port Manatee as a means to provide “clean wood chips,” which would then be burned. Power generated could supply electrical needs to upwards of 45,000 homes as well as commercial customers.

Solar power nixed in Sarasota

 County commissioners have nixed hopes for solar energy power in Sarasota County.

The plan called for government to create a solar hot-water utility for homes and businesses.

According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the county plan was to own, install and maintain solar hot-water heaters, generally accepted as being the most efficient way to heat water. Residents would pay a fee for the service that would have been less expensive than traditional energy sources.

County commissioners balked at the proposal, citing the current economic climate as being too hot for a government to branch out into a relatively unknown arena.

The board did encourage a public-private partnership on the solar deal, a collaboration that will probably come back to the table later this year.

More renewable

On the eve of Earth Day last week, President Barack Obama announced a program to “develop the renewable energy projects on the waters of our Outer Continental Shelf that produce electricity from wind, wave and ocean currents. These regulations will enable, for the first time ever, the nation to tap into our ocean’s vast sustainable resources to generate clean energy in an environmentally sound and safe manner.”

Cost is uncertain as yet and congressional approval is needed, but it’s a good step toward turning green in the deep blue sea.

Sandscript factoid

So the future of energy in our region may be to burn wood chips to power our air-conditioning systems.

Now we’re told that the wood stoves that zillions of people in India use every day to cook their gruel is a major contributor to global warming and the melting of the ice caps.

According to The New York Times, soot from open-fire stoves in India is pouring black carbon into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Carbon dioxide is the major contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, but the soot is contributing something like 18 percent of the emissions.

“In fact,” the Times reported, “reducing black carbon is one of a number of relatively quick and simple climate fixes using existing technologies — often called ‘low hanging fruit’ — that scientists say should be plucked immediately to avert the worst projected consequences of global warming.”

Scientific solution is conversion to low-soot cookstoves. Unfortunately, food doesn’t have the same taste that people come to expect in their smoked gruel.

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