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 The real difference between so-called “modern civilization” and the Dark Ages is energy – how we produce energy, how we store energy, how we move energy, how we convert energy from one form to another, and how we use energy (not necessarily in that order).
Energy can take many forms. In today’s world, the highest form of energy is, in my opinion, electricity. Without electricity, we, as a civilization, would still be in the stone age. Every “developed” country has established reasonably robust means of generating and distributing electricity. If the electricity goes out, virtually every other activity associated with civilization comes to a halt. Things do not return to normal until the electricity is restored.
The big fuss these days is how to generate and use electricity. What is the difference between green energy, renewable energy, and clean energy? According to some, any energy not generated by fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, or natural gas) is probably green, clean, and renewable (“GCR”). There are numerous problems with GCR energy. First, the energy
By John Jacobi
density of GCR is so low that there is no way there is enough acreage near population centers to build wind farms or solar farms large enough to support the day-to-day activities of
the population – much less any significant industrial activity. Second, the size of wind farms or solar farms necessary to produce meaningful quantities of electricity is enormous compared to fossil-fueled generation facilities. Third, the environmental impact of wind farms and solar farms is probably at least as significant as fossil-fueled generation plants of equivalent capacity (e.g., bird kill, potential impact on endangered flora and fauna, and the mining necessary to produce the raw materials to build wind farms or solar farms). Fourth, the electricity must be moved from the wind farms
or solar farms to the locations where it is to be consumed. The longer the distance, the greater the losses, and the more transmission corridor is needed. Fifth, wind farms or solar farms cannot reliably and continuously produce electricity so some means of storage must be provided (can you say huge arrays of batteries?) or fossil fuels must be used to ensure adequate supplies. Sixth, wind farms or solar farms cannot produce enough electricity to support industrial processes necessary to produce iron and steel and other raw materials necessary to manufacture wind turbines and solar much less concrete, automobiles, airplanes, trucks, railroad equipment, construction materials, etc., etc., etc. Seventh, there is no current technology to recycle wind turbines, solar panels, or batteries in the quantities necessary to support wind farms or solar farms.
Bottom line – in my opinion, every possible source of energy (i.e., electricity) should be pursued, BUT given the magnitude of fossil fuel reserves, GRC fuels should be used only when and where it makes economic sense to do so.
In the meantime, Call before you dig. Use the appropriate PPE. If something does not seem right, STOP and figure it out before something bad happens. Be safe out there!!
Update: In previous columns, I mentioned that, by law dated December 23, 2022, PHMSA was required by Congress to
issue a final rule on automatic and remote-controlled shut-
off valves no later than April 22, 2023, or get docked $5,000
per day. May 18, 2023, PHMSA posted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (88 FR 31890). June 30, 2023, PHMSA extended the Public Comment Period to August 16, 2023 (88 FR 42284). There is still no projected date for a final rule, and nothing has been added to the public docket. As a practical matter, it will almost certainly be at least 2024 before the rule goes final and it could easily be 2025.
John Jacobi retired from PHMSA. For questions or comments, email:
Energy and Civilization
 20 • Alabama 811
2023, Issue 4

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