Parker sparks energy discussion

Published 11:59 pm Monday, December 15, 2008

Susan Parker, a member of the state’s Public Service Commission, spoke to the Kiwanis Club Monday about a variety of topics concerning energy and renewable resources.

Parker, who has served with the commission since 2006, explained that the recent fluctuation in the price of gasoline and other fuels is connected with the law of supply and demand.

“China was at the point, up until a few weeks ago, where it was building one 500-megawatt coal firing plant every week,” Parker said. “We haven’t built one in Alabama in years, so you can see what the kind of demand would do to the price of everything that goes into electricity generation.”

She explained that Alabama is already doing as much as it can to utilize one form of renewable and clean energy — hydroelectric power.

“We’ve pretty much dammed up every river that we can in this state,” Parker said. “I’m a big fan of renewable energy, using things like biomass, solar and wind. Alabama Power has a facility in northeast Alabama where they use switch grass, and Tuscaloosa is looking at a plant where they would use wood chips.”

Parker explained that Florida has already instituted a renewable energy standard — “25 by 25” — where the state has set a goal for 25 percent of its energy to be created from renewable sources, by the year 2025. She stated that Alabama has no such standard, but it is possible that the Obama administration will institute a federal renewable energy benchmark.

Parker cautioned that it is important to consider the practicality of such a move toward alternative fuels.

“I’m a big proponent of renewable energy, but I think — especially at this time in our economy — that we need to be very conscious about how we do this,” she said. “We don’t want to just go out and pick some arbitrary number, and say ‘by 2020, we have to produce 20 percent from renewables.’

“We have to pick real numbers and be practical about this.”

One major problem facing the state is that there are not many sources of renewable energy. Parker explained that Alabama does not have enough sustained wind or solar power to utilize those sources, and that it is difficult to look at nuclear as an immediate solution because it can take as long as 15 years for a new plant to be built.

In addition, there is the practical matter that any kind of generation facility could create an eyesore.

“We believe that there is sustainable wind just off the Gulf coast,” Parker said. “There are a few groups who are looking at putting a few turbines out there. But nobody wants to look at a wind turbine when you’re lying on the beach in Panama City. So, if you put it out far enough where you don’t see it, now you’ve got to deal with all the transmission costs of bringing the energy back to the coast.

“There are still all kinds of issues to deal with.”

Parker added that although it may not be easy to move away from fossil fuels as an energy source, it is still quite possible. France has already built several new nuclear plants, and the nation of Sweden is at a point where it produces the bulk of its electricity from hydroelectric and nuclear power.

“We need to keep thinking about technological development,” she said. “We started a lot of work toward renewable energy during the Carter administration, but then we quit doing research once the price of fuels went back down. We cannot afford to do that, this time.

“Not everything in America is perfect, but everything is possible. We can solve this problem.”