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21 March, 2010

Energy Smorgasbord

I've written about windmills and what-not energies before, but a recent trip up the Columbia got that train of thought rolling again.

The picture's train is hauling a load of coal, probably that high sulphur western washington stuff, seeing as 'twas headed upriver with a sick yellow tinge to it. The two engines burn diesel--you can see the exhaust blurrippling the center windmills. Then there's the fender telling us that good old gasoline is represented, so you can pretty well say you got your fossil fuels covered.

For that matter, I drove while I shot that photo, gaining east on Route 14 at a solid 60-per and holding the camera as far riight as possible. For a shot when I was forced to pay at least some attention to vehicles ahead and behind on 2 lanes with-a-tunnel-approaching,...I'm happy.

With the wind in the picture, as it is in the Northwest, 'alternative energy' contributes more than a token, though not nearly as much as back when wind was 'standard energy' that powered sailing cultures and global commerce. Wind doesn't emit gas or ash or trash or carcinogens, much less stuff that stays radioactive for thousands of generations (as it does upriver). Seeing the wind corkscrew through a line of them all in synch is pretty. On the other hand, it most definitely intrudes on the landscape, and sometimes slices birds in half. Ain't nothing free.

What you don't see in the photo is most important: the Columbia. Navigable by boat, plane, train, automobile, and bikes. Windy as all get-out. Flowing mightily. The Columbia, dammed by glacier and landslide alike for eons, and then by man as well, mostly for the cheap electricity. Since the water wheel of antiquity we've helped ourselves to the power of flow, and in the 20th Century we went hog-wild, resulting in fairly cheap NW power. Dams don't emit bad stuff either, unless you count the turbined fish going down or the poop-plume when sea-lions feast on fish that cannot swim up. Dams do drown entire ecosystems and towns, though, which ain't good.

Nothing's perfect, but a heck of a lot of things beat burning fossil fuel. I only hope to live to the day when I can be like Ed Begley on an episode of The Simpsons, and drive a car "Powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction."

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