Can the West Coast Stop Using Coal?

Apparently those crazy Californians or, I should say, crazy Angelenos, think they can reduce L.A.’s use of coal for electricity generation from 40 percent of the city’s total electricity needs to zero. By 2020, no less.

How? Well, compact fluorescents, LEDs, wind farms, geothermal energy, solar panels on houses, and so on. Unfortunately, the article in Sierra magazine recycles the tired old chestnut: “But efficiency measures will only take you so far.”

That’s a failure of imagination. Go read what David Goldstein said, “The practical limits of efficiency have never been tested.”

On a day when President Obama decided it was OK to drill for oil off the US coasts, I’m feeling a little testy.

Farther up the West Coast, Portland has the right idea: efficiency.

Paid for in part by federal stimulus dollars, the 500-home pilot program upgrades insulation, windows, and other features. The cost is tacked on to the utility bill but spread out over 15 years; the energy savings typically mean the net cost doesn’t go up even with the extra charge. The program, coming at a time when the housing and credit markets are reeling, has proved popular beyond the usual crunchy crowd.

It shouldn’t be just a pilot program. It should be a mandate. We should require all buildings, old and new, to meet a certain standard of efficiency, and make people upgrade their homes to meet those standards. Instead of building nuclear plants or drilling for oil, we should take the money wasted on such projects and put it into efficiency.

I think the results would be amazing.

How Is This Restoration?

If we stop polluting (that is, if we shut down coal plants because they’re not needed), then the negative effects of that pollution will eventually go away. I don’t know how to describe that except in terms of public health (less asthma, for instance). I assume that plants and animals will survive better if the air has less mercury and sulfur dioxide.

I call this kind of environmental initiative “indirect restoration.” Take away the pollution, and the ecosystems will repair themselves.

Here’s a link to “The West Without Coal.”