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Efficiency, renewable energy are much cheaper than nukes

Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News

When Arjun Makhijani talks about generating electricity with nuclear power, he knows of what he speaks. His Ph.D. is from UC-Berkeley in nuclear engineering, and he has authored numerous books on energy, including the first evaluation conducted of energy efficiency potential in the U.S. economy.

His most recent tome, "Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free," is a no-nonsense policy guide for ending our dependence on fossil fuels without incurring massive debt — and courting potential disaster — by expanding our nuclear-generation capacity.

Here to unveil a preliminary assessment of CPS Energy's efficiency and renewable energy programs, Makhijani praised CPS' commitment to wind energy, but faulted its solar energy plans, which he said are lagging and need to be expanded.

"CPS Energy is committed to 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020," he said. "Since I was here last, the energy efficiency goals ... have increased. But CPS can go much farther on energy efficiency."

He prefaced his remarks to an Energy Efficiency Luncheon saying that he did not come to the Alamo City to tell people to turn out the lights when they leave rooms, but to point out that San Antonio is “at a crossroads” over its energy policies.

"You have a lot of new housing, a lot of development, and a lot of people want to come here, so you need an economical electricity system," Makhijani said. "But you also want a clean electricity system that can survive the earthquakes of financial risk, environmental risk, carbon-dioxide risk; and the biggest potential to addressing those risks is with efficiency."

Big energy consumption does not equate to economic vitality, he said, noting that, "It is not the states with the greatest energy consumption per capita that are the wealthiest and most prosperous. Silicon Valley has very high electricity rates and very high real estate values, and a lot of the very best paid people want to live there, not because of the electricity rates but because the total electricity bills are very reasonable."

"California consumes about half the electricity, per capita, as the rest of the country."

San Antonians are lucky to have a publicly owned utility, he said, but because "CPS does have a peak energy problem," it must maintain excessive generating capacity to assure delivery of electricity during peak hours. As the city keeps growing, however, this need for additional capacity should be eliminated with increased efficiency and renewable energy instead of sinking enormous amounts of money on nuclear power.

At an earlier news conference, Makhijani glowed as he showed off a New York Times story about firms that are installing photovoltaic panels on the roofs of big-box retail stores and parking lots, something Makhijani has long advocated.

He also said that residential consumers can lower their energy efficiency by focusing on their air conditioning, not by raising thermostats and decreasing comfort levels, but by sealing ducts and keeping them out of over-heated attics, and by installing programmable thermostats and energy-efficient windows. Commercial users can increase efficiency by installing cooler, more efficient lighting that doesn't dramatically increase the need for more air conditioning capacity.

His points are quite valid, and San Antonians are especially well prepared to follow them.

Once average consumers of water, San Antonians are now among the nation's most efficient water users, and we achieved that in less than three decades through higher public awareness, education programs and incentives to regular folks.

Makhijani also provided more than a billion reasons to do the same with energy: "Relying on efficiency will lower costs and will be much cheaper than nuclear power; and it will save you between $1.5 billion and $3 billion to rely on renewable energy and efficiency compared to nuclear energy."

He got my attention.

cguerra @ express-news.net

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