Where Is Safety Harbor and Why Does It Matter?
By Jonathan Brewer, CleanSoil Technologies, Inc.
Safety Harbor is a bucolic town on the shores of Upper Tampa Bay, Florida. While its bustling tree-lined Main Street harkens back to a simpler time, the City finds itself on the cutting edge of significant issues. Energy is one of them.
Recently, the Safety Harbor City Commission voted, as another domino, in a growing string of “Ready for 100” candidates fostered by the Sierra Club. “Ready for 100” is the Sierra Club’s campaign to enlist the support of communities, cities, counties and states to fully transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources by the year 2050. Wind, solar, tidal and geothermal energy sources are those cited by the Sierra Club’s webpage on the topic.
During my past inquiries with Duke Energy, Safety Harbor’s primary electricity supplier, their target goal for renewables by 2050 was framed as being in the neighborhood of 35 percent* (including hydro-electric). The implications for Safety Harbor’s businesses and residents of the potential shortfall of 65 percent to achieve the “Ready for 100” Sierra Club goal? Nobody seemed to have answers in the City’s public hearing on the topic. There were lots of numbers thrown around at the public hearing, but nothing was settled on the “how” to achieve this. Would the City be committed to making up this shortfall? That, too, was unclear and remains so.
I attended the public hearing, and when I brought up the 65 percent shortfall combined with the reality of the actual electricity that could be reliably produced by wind turbines, along with concerns about wind turbine height and locations affecting the aesthetics of our waterfront atmosphere, I was roundly hissed by a green-shirted, Sierra Club-favoring audience. Unfortunately, however, the shortfall and concerns remain, unanswered and unaddressed. Safety Harbor city management voted to approve the measure and join the “Ready for 100” ranks, making an unenlightened yet well-intentioned commitment to a slick and emotional Sierra Club campaign.
How did we get there?
The Mathematics of CO2
We are confronted today with the dire statistic of 420 parts per million (or ppm) of CO2 in our atmosphere, a number cleverly couched as the highest number in recorded history. What I mean by “dire” and “cleverly couched” is that CO2 in the atmosphere has only started to be meaningfully measured in the last 60 years. Physical and geological evidence supports that atmospheric CO2 has reached levels of 3,000 to 9,000 ppm in past millennia.
Mathematically, 420 ppm means there is 0.042 percent CO2 in our air. This may be meaningful in a scientific forum, but it provides no context to inform or educate the public. Can we describe the relative impact of 0.042 percent of CO2 in our air? I think so, by the following illustration.
A part per million is just that, one part out of a million parts. For the illustration, let’s say our one part per million is a penny or 0.06 inches tall. That means the CO2 in our air represents a stack of pennies 25.2 inches tall.
Is all the CO2 in our atmosphere due to human activities? No, 96 percent of all atmospheric CO2 comes from natural sources, primarily the ocean. Using the illustration, that means 24.192 inches of our stack of pennies is from natural sources.
The remaining 1.008 inches of pennies is the “anthropogenic” or human contribution to the CO2 in our atmosphere. This is from all sources of our earthly activities, from power generation to transportation and industrial activities. A reference is commonly made that 90 percent of the anthropogenic CO2 in our atmosphere is from the burning of fossil fuels (natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, coal, jet fuel). If that percentage is accurate, it only equates to 0.9072 inches of those pesky pennies!
Now, if we had a stack of one million pennies, or a million parts per million, they would equal 60,000 inches or be 5,000 feet tall. The atmosphere around the stack of pennies would include 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, 0.93 percent argon and 0.042 percent CO2. The remainder would be trace gases of helium, neon, methane, krypton, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and xenon at a combined 0.028 percent.
Carrying the illustration through, that is 60,000 total atmospheric inches compared to 0.9072 inches from the burning of fossil fuels. So it really is dependent on how the numbers are presented, but human contributions are almost totally insignificant.
Ironically, while Safety Harbor has heatedly and publicly debated building heights not exceeding three stories or 45 feet high on Main Street, the Sierra Club devotees seemed to have no problem with a wind farm of 16 to 20 towering turbines destroying the beauty of our Tampa Bay shores. Forty-five feet on Main Street? Try 400 feet or more in height for the wind turbines currently being built and deployed around the country.
Is solar an option? Certainly, but not for generating 65 percent of even the City’s current electricity needs, and that form of energy also has its drawbacks. With Safety Harbor being virtually “built out”, a solar farm is out of the question. Storage capacity or sites? There are none.
Regardless, Safety Harbor residents (and others of course) can provide donations to the Sierra Club through its partner Sun Power for every home solar installation by Sierra Club members. Don’t forget “Drive Green for Life” either, Ford Motor Company and Sun Power’s way to direct donations to the Sierra Club with the purchase of an electric vehicle. Ready for 100? Ready for revenue.
Why does it matter? It matters for two huge reasons.
The first is that the science and physics of weather and environmental changes related to wind turbine farms and large solar arrays is in its infancy. The second is where future resource investment is made.
The Science of Weather, Physics and Renewables
The First Law of Thermodynamics would suggest, when energy passes into or out of a system (as work, heat or matter) the system’s internal energy changes in accord with the Law of Conservation of Energy. How does the First Law play out for wind and solar? Here are two scenarios to consider.
Thermodynamics Scenario 1 – Downwind (on the back side) of large installation wind turbine farms, the removed and converted energy from the wind would seem likely to have an effect on the weather. When a barrier is removed, in this case the wind, does that not allow for an opposite wind (weather pattern) to proceed unabated?
Could the strong “Santa Ana” winds in 2020 have been a demonstration of this effect? Large wind farms have been installed all along the spine of the Sierras, particularly in the passes and canyons of southern California. If the west-to-east energy has been removed from the environment and converted to electrical energy, then the east-to-west winds will now move unabated across the peaks and through the canyons of the Sierras. And could this effect be a contributing factor in California’s forest fires?
Thermodynamics Scenario 2 – Large solar arrays and redirections of light/heat energy at facilities like Ivanpah in Southern California suggest some impact to Earth/climate dynamics.
The solar array removes light/heat energy and converts it to electricity. But as with wind turbine installations, the backside of the process most affects the environment and weather. When the light is absorbed or redirected by the panel, it takes the form of heat. Underneath the solar panels (the earth soils) the light/heat has been removed from the environment and converted to electricity. Normally and naturally, this light/heat is stored in the soil to be released as convective energy into the atmosphere, creating weather patterns unique to this release. Without this stored heat release, it must be asked what effect this heat removal is having on the balance of our ecosystems. Droughts in Texas exacerbated by the removal of heat convective clouds created to the west?
Considering the potential significance of these factors created by the removal of energy from current and natural weather cycles due to wind and solar, research to better understand them and identify the potential long-term impacts must occur now, not later – to avoid harmful unintended consequences.
The most important reason why this topic matters is future investment. If the current “Ready for 100” campaign to sway citizens towards renewables in their cities without balanced discussions about the realities and consequences of their use compared to power generation by natural gas and coal, the risk will increase of souring the investment community on these fossil fuels – which undoubtedly will be needed for grid stability.
We are on the verge of meaningful CO2 sequestration, direct conversion of CO2 into methanol for transportation fuels and converting the carbon in coal for common industrial uses such as graphene and carbon fiber. The investment in these cutting-edge technologies will dry up without a concerted effort to stifle “Ready for 100”, get our positive message out and educate the public in a more realistic and positive way.
Yes, Safety Harbor matters, and your town does as well.
*Author note: The renewables target was provided to me by Duke Energy’s media office. It should not be confused with Duke Energy’s publicly stated goals of 50 percent carbon reduction by 2030 and a carbon neutral attainment by the year 2050.
Jonathan Brewer is the president of CleanSoil Technologies, Inc.