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Wednesday, 20 April 2016 14:05

BEHIND  THE  LINES

Los Angeles, CA. — Before anything, I’m going on sabbatical this week as my cardiologist said that my heart isn’t functioning as R2-D2’s and I will have to undergo an angioplasty to fix it. That’s going to happen at the White Memorial Hospital in downtown Los Angeles, a few blocks away from Chinatown. There are also a load of social activities that require my presence like my mom’s 90th birthday and my daughter Joy’s. I celebrated mine last April 17. (Allow me to greet a dear old friend, Vic de Ruste y Solis from Santa Maria happy birthday, though this comes late.)

I agree that we need to cut carbon emissions because of the surge in climate change. But, as the DOE secretary said, NOT YET. She argues that the country needs cheap, reliable and sustainable baseload power plants to generate electricity as the climate-friendly renewable energy is being introduced. Wind capacity should at least double and solar energy needs to increase tenfold. In the United States, wind and solar produce less than six percent of electricity. Yes, that small. A call for “nuclear renaissance” has sputtered because of exorbitant maintenance costs.

Zamboanga has not reduced its consumption of electricity. Our electricity demands continue to escalate with the planned entry of big businesses demanding constant and reliable power. KCC is one. Robinson’s, SM and Puregold will follow sooner than expected.

The eventual, but not in the distant future, shift to clean energy — solar, wind, geo-thermal — is mostly about saving money, not about saving Mother Earth. It’s about reducing dependency on oil, something that we can’t do without because oil powers our vehicles. Tesla electric cars are expensive.

The coal plants supply one-third of U.S. power demands, although now facing high regulatory costs. Still, electricity rates remain low, even though one-fifth of the country’s coal-generated power, representing about 166 coal plants, have been retired or are scheduled to retire.

This in a nutshell is the power situation in the U.S. And, as reported by TIME Magazine, most regulated electric utilities make money by selling power. Their customers who go solar are becoming quasi-competitors. “And the utilities still have to maintain their distribution lines, which will force them to raise rates for non-solar customers, which could in turn spur more customers to go solar — the so-called utility death spiral. I leave that to Engineer Ben Conti to explain.

Solar batteries are expensive, although the cost is slowly dropping and it’s obviously impractical to heat molten salt at home. TIME further reports that Crescent Dunes, a solar thermal plant, is powered by 360,000 mirrors that look like a vast glass crop circle curved into a lonely landscape of sagebrush and tumbleweed. The mirrors will redirect the sun’s rays to heat salt up to 1,050 degrees fahrenheit, temperatures so extreme that the plant had to be redesigned by rocket scientists. The salt will then be stored in the plant’s matching hot tank where its excess heat will be available to spin the steam turbines and generate electricity at any time. (What if there’s no sun?)

Depending on the heat the sun generates and the power of the wind, we, as the DOE chief says, still need coal-fired power plants to push the economy. We’re not a country like the U.S., China or India whose environment has been polluted because of carbon emissions. We are still operating within the tolerable limits that the population isn’t threatened with diseases caused by carbon emissions. Besides, coal plants are the most reliable, dependable source of energy generation.

Meanwhile, at home Sweet Zamboanga, Engineer Conti (whose popularity qualifies him to run for public office) sent me an article on the power situation:

“Power utility giant Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) is expanding its network in Mindanao via its planned entry in ZAMCELCO.

“It was gathered that both MERALCO and Aboitiz Group are interested in the Investment Management Contract (IMC) that the National Electrification Administration (NEA) has been offering for ZAMCELCO.

“The entry of deep-pocket private investors in ZAMCELCO is one of the awaited developments of power project developer Alsons Power Group for its planned 105-Megawatt San Ramon coal-fired power facility...

“In a text message, NEA Administrator Edita S. Bueno has noted that the ‘terms of reference’ for ZAMCELCO’s IMC is still being done by its (ZAMCELCO) consultant.”

That’s the power score in Zamboanga right now.