Access to Real Energy

I nearly experienced an oil disaster a few days ago—no, not an oil spill—rather, a disaster caused by my lack of oil. It was an experience that made me realize how much we take the widespread availability of oil, and other forms of fossil fuel energy, for granted.

I was in backcountry Arkansas, part way through my cross-country road-trip to college when I realized that I hadn’t gotten gas recently. Sure enough, the “Empty Tank” light was on—for how long I had no idea. This was an area where small towns are spaced about every 50 miles or so. To make matters worse, I had been driving through soybean fields for a while, and I had no idea where the next gas station would be.

My mind raced to the worse possible scenario—my car was running on fumes and any second I was going to run out of gasoline, and I was going to be stranded.

I searched for the nearest gas station on my phone only to find that it was 21 miles away. I’m no car expert, but I knew that when the “Empty Tank” light went on, you needed gasoline, and you needed it now. My thoughts ranged from “Not going to make it,” to “I wonder how charitable the people of Arkansas are, maybe someone will spot me,” to “At least I have my bike, I guess I could bike to the nearest gas station.” I was running low on both energy and optimism.

I started driving 60 MPH, maximum efficiency for the engine, to get the most out of whatever gasoline was left. I was looking back and forth between the dashboard, where I could see my gasoline meter dropping further and further toward “E”, and the navigation on my phone, where I was watching as the miles left to the nearest gas station slowly decreased.

After 16 of the longest miles I’ve ever experienced, I lucked out and stumbled upon a gas station that hadn’t appeared on my phone. I pulled up next to a riding lawn mover (apparently it is completely acceptable to drive your lawn mover to the gas station in Arkansas) and started to fill up my tank. What I felt, as I could hear the gasoline pouring into my tank, was relief and overwhelming gratitude to the fossil fuel companies that not only made my trip to college possible in the first place but also saved me from being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Later that afternoon, as I was driving through Illinois, I saw something that made me appreciate that gasoline even more—I saw a wind farm.

Earlier that day, I thought that I had run out of energy. True, it was liquid fuel for a car rather than the electric energy produced by windmills, but that was beside the point. There have not been many times in my life when I’ve lacked access to energy—gasoline energy to feed my car’s engine or electric energy to turn on the lights. Lacking energy is not a common problem in America.

As I drove past the wind farm I realized that, in the future, access to reliable energy—both gasoline energy and electric energy—may not be the norm. The wind farm I drove past was not functioning: none of the turbine blades were rotating, which meant that it was not providing electricity to the individuals who were connected to its electric grid. To my eyes, it looked like more of a wind turbine graveyard than a “wind farm” since farms produce, and these windmills produced nothing.

I thought, “What if my only source of energy was wind energy?” And the answer was staring back at me in the form of static three-blade statues. If my only source of energy was wind energy, which relies on unreliable and intermittent wind to be generated—life would get very, very difficult.

The frightening aspect is that this “fictitious” scenario—being forced to rely solely on wind energy and other forms of “renewable” energy—is on its way to becoming reality.

The state of Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandates that, by the year 2025, 25% of electricity come from “renewable” sources, such as wind or solar. Illinois is not the only state with an RPS; twenty-nine other states have similar mandates. As states mandate that more and more energy come from “renewable” sources, our ability to easily access energy will decrease dramatically.

Did you want to take an exotic vacation? Did you want to drive to visit your family across the country? Did you want an ambulance on demand? Did you want to charge all your iThings at once? Did you want to shower with hot water? Did you want to turn on your lights? Better hope it’s a sunny day or a windy night.

If we were forced to rely on unreliable “renewables,” then our ability to use energy wouldn’t correlate to how much energy we would like to use, but rather, to how much energy happens to be available. If the wind wasn’t blowing, or the sun wasn’t shining, we would have to adjust our lifestyle to fit the weather pattern of the day. (It’s little comfort that opponents of fossil fuels assure us they don’t intend to go that far.)

If that scenario is hard for us to take seriously it’s thanks to the reliable energy industries, and their proven track record of providing real energy. The fossil fuel industry, the nuclear industry, and the hydroelectric industry account for 98% of energy generation in the U.S.

When I finally found a gas station that morning, I almost took for granted the fact that the fossil fuel industry provides me with real energy. How many people, in the same situation, would have thanked the reliable energy industry for saving their day and providing them with real energy?

As you drive to the your child’s fall sporting event, drive to work, or drive to run a simple errand, remember to thank the fossil fuel industry every time you fill up your tank.

 

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