Ending Dependence on Fossil Fuels
by Wayne Flaherty
It is not a pipe dream, a fairy story, a science fiction tale or any other form of wishful thinking. Ending dependence on fossil fuels is not only a real possibility, it has been done and is currently the way of life in Kristianstad, Sweden. As you read this, the city and area surrounding Kristianstad uses no oil, natural gas, or coal to heat homes and businesses. Even more startling for this community of 80,000 is their lack of dependence on solar power or wind turbines. Instead they transform the material in their landfill into biogas, a form of methane. Methane is burned to create heat and electricity and can also be refined as a fuel for automobiles. It generates energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines.
Ten years ago their startup cost was $144 million and included a new incineration plant, laying a network of pipes, replacing furnaces, and installing generators. The city now spends $3.2 million per year to heat its municipal buildings versus the $7 million it would cost if they used oil and electricity. The shift from fossil fuels is so successful that they are expanding their biogas plants and underground gas pipes.
Certainly, an exact copy of the Kristianstad model would not work for all municipalities. Still, the basic elements and methods could be applied anywhere – even here. First and foremost, the will to do it must exist. Instead of figuring out all the reasons why it can fail, our leaders should figure out how it can succeed. Even if our elected officials haven’t the political will at present, common sense dictates that a serious examination of the potential for such a plan is called for.
In the late 1600’s Edmund Halley (the discoverer of Halley’s Comet) set about to lay the groundwork for determining the age of the earth by measuring the saltiness of the ocean. Knowing he would not live long enough to carry out the necessary measurements, he recorded the saltiness of the ocean. He then set those figures aside for someone in the future to use. Some scientist could again measure the saltiness of the ocean and use the two sets of figures to measure the increase in saltiness over time, thus enabling the age of the earth to be calculated. Halley didn’t calculate the age of the earth but he set the stage so it could be done in the future.
Hopefully our leaders will have the foresight the lay the groundwork for ending our dependence on fossil fuels. We know our landfills will soon be filled to capacity. The current method of locating another landfill in an adjacent county is only a short-term fix. The ultimate solution is to devise a plan to consume 100% of the waste we generate. Kristianstad has shown us one way to solve our waste problem.
Now is the time to lay the groundwork for an ultimate solution.