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U.S. States Envisions Energy Independence

Many U.S. states have given up waiting on the federal government to fully support achieving energy independence in the country. Among many locally-sponsored programs, Hawaii and Iowa have taken large steps toward using alternative energy to provide power for their citizens.

Hawaii in particular has sought to increase production of electricity generated by solar power. Hawaiian Electric Company (HEC) has reached a milestone of providing 20 megawatts of electricity through solar power generation. The most prominent location for solar power is on the island of Oahu, where HEC operates a solar array and approximately 4,000 customers generate solar power and sell unused energy back to the grid.

HEC has also announced a partnership with Forest City Hawaii and Hoku Solar to establish a one megawatt solar energy production facility on a former industrial waste disposal site. Hoku Solar will design and install an array of more than 4,200 photovoltaic (PV) panels on a concrete racking system at this location.

The twelve-acre disposal site was sealed off with a plastic liner and a thick layer of asphalt in 1986 and is unusable for most construction purposes. However, PV arrays such as the one described above can be installed directly on the asphalt surface, which is an effective use of otherwise unusable land. In honor of its new function, the former disposal site has been renamed the Kapolei Sustainable Energy Park.

Final approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is still pending at this time. If approved by the commission, Hoku Solar and HEC plan to have the facility in operation by the end of 2011.

Iowa has taken a different path in pursuit of energy independence, and it is the first state to aggressively pursue wind power for public usage. The state currently produces about 20% of its power through the use of wind turbines and plans to increase this amount in the future.

Along with providing locally-sourced renewable power to state residents, Iowa is deriving additional revenue from companies building wind farms. These companies paid $16.5 million in property taxes and approximately $11 million to property owners for land lease payments during 2010. Additionally, wind farm construction has spurred the state’s manufacturing industry, adding more than 200 wind-related businesses and $5 billion to local economies.

In addition to these remarkable achievements, California makes extensive use of hydroelectric and geothermal power and provides roughly 20% of its electricity requirements through the use of alternative and renewable sources. Overall, the United States produces approximately 11% of its energy needs through renewable resources, and it contains the largest geothermal and solar power generating stations in the world.

The U.S. has numerous regions where alternative power sources are readily available: solar power in the desert, geothermal in the western half of the country, wind throughout the Plains states, and potential hydroelectric power in abundance in nearly every section of the country. In stark contrast to these abundant natural resources, the federal government has cut programs promoting alternative energy and refuses to cut subsidies given to oil and gas companies that continue to post record profits.

President Obama has promised support for a number of alternative energy initiatives but this has disappeared behind bipartisan bickering over other political issues and blind support for fossil-based fuels. Much of the country’s power still comes from fossil-based sources such as oil and coal, and these non-renewable resources continue to rise in cost.

Along with rising production costs, the federal government has placed stricter regulations on power plant construction, waste disposal, and emissions controls. These stricter regulations benefit us by reducing air pollution and contamination of water resources and reducing the potential for catastrophic failure. Unfortunately, the cost of meeting these regulations drives up construction prices and means retrofitting expenses for older power plants. Utility companies then pass these costs to consumers via their electricity bills.

Utility companies pass further burdens to consumers in the form of lost energy. As electricity travels along power lines, energy is lost during transmission. The greater the distance traveled by that electricity, the greater the overall loss. Power plants incur additional energy losses when converting fuel to electric power. Between these two areas of energy loss, the end user receives one usable unit of energy for every five units of energy processed by a power plant.

Localized power generation such as that established by Hawaii, Iowa, and California is in every consumer’s best interest. The power generally comes from renewable resources, thus reducing potential lifetime costs and ensuring that spiking commodity prices will not affect utility bills. Additionally, local power usage means that electricity only travels a short distance before usage, eliminating one area of energy loss.

The use of renewable energy helps to further reduce costs that impact consumers. Most power plants that run on renewable sources are built at the source rather than requiring fuel to be shipped to their locations. There is minimal processing time and, unlike coal and oil, there are no fees for using sunlight and wind. Additionally, renewable sources do not provide the same waste products as fossil fuels and require minimal equipment to meet federal regulations.

As more states step forward and lead the way into renewable power, we will rely less and less on fossil fuel-based energy. This provides two major benefits: first, we reduce our dependence on foreign oil imports and on foreign countries; and second, using local, renewable energy sources will lower utility bill costs. These should be the primary considerations of all energy production in our country.

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