Letter To The Editor: Los Alamos Carbon Neutrality Goal

By WILL FOX
Los Alamos

The Board of Public Utilities will discuss Carbon Neutrality during its regular monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday in Council Chambers, 1000 Central Ave. The meeting is open to the public. Following are some things to consider:

Why should Los Alamos County adopt a goal for Carbon Neutrality (CN) by 2040?

Because it just makes good sense. Becoming carbon neutral will reduce electricity costs in the long run. It is better for the environment, and it increases national security. It is an action that will improve the quality of life for future generations as well as our own.

What is the Carbon Neutrality goal proposed for the County?

“Electricity distributed to LA County consumers shall be generated or purchased from sources that do not cause any significant net release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases.”

What does this really mean?

It means that by 2040 Los Alamos will do its best to obtain electricity from sources that do not release greenhouse gases.  And if they are unable to completely do so, they will offset those releases with other measures. What other measures? The County can sell excess renewable energy to other consumers outside of Los Alamos or support carbon sequestration processes such as planting trees or capturing and sequestering CO2, etc.

Why will electricity costs go down as a result of this goal?

The simple truth is that the cost of renewable energy sources  is going down, while the cost of fossil fuels is going up in the long term.  Wind and solar energy costs have  decreased significantly over the last several years, as these technologies have matured, and are expected to continue this trend into the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the cost of fossil fuels has fluctuated significantly over the past several years as supplies have varied and the requirements for pollution control have increased, but are expected to increase in the long term. As a result, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are expected to be less expensive than most forms of fossil fuel in the 2020 to 2025 time frame (NEA 2015 Costs). The cost of nuclear energy has remained fairly constant for the last couple of decades and is expected to be competitive with renewable sources in the long term.

If that is the case,  why not wait a few years to adopt the CN goal?

Energy production is a long term investment.  As such, decisions made today will have impacts for 25 years down the road or more. Los Alamos County has wisely invested in their own electricity production resources ( Hydro plants) rather than simply buying energy on the open market, because it is cheaper in the long run. If we want to reap the benefits of renewable energy costs  going down, we need to begin planning for investments in those technologies today and limiting our investment in fossil fuel energy production in the long term. The CN goal helps establish the framework necessary for that planning.

Why is the CN goal good for the environment?

The mining and burning of fossil based fuels generate a wide variety of pollutants. These pollutants take many forms such as greenhouse gases, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxides, volatile hydrocarbons, and  heavy metals such as uranium, thorium, and mercury. The health impact associated with these pollutants is significant. It is estimated that the impact from burning fossil fuels in coal fired power plants in the US results in thousands of premature deaths and millions of lost work days annually. A shift to nuclear and renewable energy sources will help to eliminate the pollution created by fossil fuel burning and improve the environment as well as peoples’ health.

Climate change is inevitable. Mother nature has been changing the climate on a regular basis since the earth was formed. But for the first time in recorded history, man appears to be impacting it. A vast majority of environmental scientists believe that the introduction of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as a result of the consumption of fossil based fuels is contributing to a global temperature increase.

The impacts of this are not completely understood, but a rise in sea level, shift in weather patterns, and increasingly stronger storms are likely results. These changes are expected to produce droughts, famine, loss of arable land, economic loss, and loss of life. A shift to renewable energy sources and a reduction in the production of greenhouse gases could help to mitigate these effects.

Why would a CN goal improve national security.

National security relies on more than military might. It now encompasses economic security, energy security, and environmental security. Generating electric power from renewable sources within the US can reduce our dependence on foreign supplied fossil fuels. This results in greater economic and energy security because our economy and energy supply is not as easily influenced by other nations. A strong economy is one of the keys to national security, and a reliable supply of low cost energy is one of the requirements for a strong economy.

The increased use of renewable energy sources reduces the damage to our environment, while increasing our environmental security. It also increases our credibility and influence in a world that is beginning to understand the serious problems that climate change brings. A CN goal sets the stage for a shift to a more reliable supply of lower cost energy that is environmentally conscious and provides greater security and a more desirable world to live in for future generations.

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