Los Alamos Hydrocarbon Use Essentially Unchanged

Annual Primary Energy Use in Los Alamos County, exclusive of LANL, from the report ‘Energy Use and Carbon Dioxide Emissions in Los Alamos County: 2000-2012’ by Robert Gibson. Image by Robert Gibson

Annual Carbon Dioxide Emissions in Los Alamos County, exclusive of LANL, from combustion of hydrocarbon fuels. Emissions from solid waste add the equivalent of another 20,000 tons per year. Image by Robert Gibson

Los Alamos Daily Post
Energy use and resulting carbon dioxide emissions in Los Alamos have remained essentially unchanged in the past dozen years, in spite of the County’s commitment at one time to “pursue independence from hydrocarbon energy sources.”  That is the conclusion of former Los Alamos County Councilor and Utility Board member Robert Gibson, who has monitored energy use and carbon dioxide emissions in Los Alamos for the past decade.

“Greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere are inducing major changes in our climate,” Gibson told the Los Alamos Daily Post.  “To see what we are contributing to this problem, where our leverage is, and any progress, I’ve been tracking data for years.”

Gibson’s current report covers 2000 through 2012.

“The residents of Los Alamos County, exclusive of the Laboratory, consume about 2,200 terajoules (TJ) of energy annually,” says the report.  “43 percent of that is in the form of natural gas, used primarily for space and water heating, and 20 percent is electrical energy. The balance, 37 percent, is the energy content of petroleum-based fuels for motor vehicles.”

“At present, about 6 percent of Los Alamos’ total energy comes from renewable non-hydrocarbon sources as roughly 30 percent of its electricity is produced from hydroelectric plants,” the report states.

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are impractical to measure directly, but the amount produced by combustion of each type of fuel is well known. Carbon dioxide emissions associated with combustion of hydrocarbon fuels averages about 180,000 metric tons per year. An additional 20,000 metric tons per year of CO2–equivalent greenhouse gasses evolve from municipal solid waste disposed of by Los Alamos residents.

“This is not the entire ‘carbon footprint’ of county residents. Energy is also consumed and greenhouse gasses emitted in the manufacture and transport of goods we consume,” Gibson said.

The data in Gibson’s report comes from several sources:

  • Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities;
  • Los Alamos County Department of Public Works;
  • New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department;
  • Los Alamos Public Schools; and
  • LANL Weather Machine.

To view the full 29-page report, including monthly and annual data for each form of energy, click here.

Gibson said that Los Alamos County government formally committed in 2007 to “pursue independence from hydrocarbon energy sources, but it declined to set any specific goals and did almost nothing to provide any leadership.” That strategic objective disappeared in 2011, he said.

“Los Alamos residents continue to have a strong sense of environmental stewardship, of which reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one major component,” Gibson said. “Reducing hydrocarbon emissions is not something we can pin on ‘someone else.’ We all contribute to the problem and we are all part of the solution.

“By far the least expensive, least polluting, and most accessible approach is conservation. Better insulation, more efficient furnaces, and solar hot water heating save natural gas. Smaller and newer  vehicles, especially hybrids, save petroleum. Compact fluorescent lights and LED’s (which have dropped dramatically in price recently) save electricity. There are myriad ways we can all save fuels, reduce carbon dioxide, and save ourselves money with modest effort and negligible change in lifestyle.”