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January 21, 2007

Serious Conservation: The Direction to Go

Japan is racing ahead with energy restrictions, renewable fuel production, and creating a nation-wide conservation ethos.  Families make use of advanced technologies like home fuel cells, room heaters that have a sensor that aims the heat only at people and shuts off when no one is around. 

And, the government is behind it - thinking ahead about the future.  What a concept!  According to an article in the New York Times two weeks ago:

Japan’s obsession with conservation stems from an acute sense of insecurity in a resource-poor nation that imports most its energy from the volatile Middle East, a fact driven home here by the 1970s shocks. The guiding hand of government has also played a role, forcing households and companies to conserve by raising the cost of gasoline and electricity far above global levels. Taxes and price controls make a gallon of gasoline in Japan currently cost about $5.20, twice America’s more market-based prices.

The government in turn has used these tax revenues to help Japan seize the lead in renewable energies like solar power, and more recently home fuel cells. One way has been a subsidy of about $51,000 for each home fuel cell. This allowed Mr. Kimura to buy his cell last year for about $9,000, far below production cost. His cell, which generates one kilowatt per hour, provides just under half of his household’s electricity, and has cut his electricity bill by the same amount, he said.

Who got the first fuel cell?  The Prime Minister.

The increase in domestic demand for energy-saving devices, like low-energy washing machines, high-mileage cars and hybrid vehicles, has put Japanese industry ahead of other countries.  Factories are improving their energy efficiency and are now selling highly efficient electric turbines, steel blast furnaces and other industrial equipment to other countries, particularly the U.S.  Mitsubishi Heavy expects "to see a $7.9 billion industry in Japan by 2020, about 10 times its 2000 size. 

I want a smart government like that here.  We seem to have a great start at it, both with the new Democratic-led Congress and with our super-majority Democratic Washington State legislature.   Can we get started now so that in 2009, when we have a Democrat in the White House, we can give him or her the first fuel cell produced in the U.S.? 

Can we, here in Seattle, use the current Viaduct decision debacle, to put Seattle at the forefront of a public transit-based economy?  We still have time, but just barely.  A couple days ago, Jeff Reifman, cross-posting at Evergreen Politics from his site at Newscloud, suggested that we "tear down the Viaduct and use those billions to manage the change in traffic patterns and rapid transit solutions that move people without creating more greenhouse emissions". 

I agree.  It has taken a while for me to work my way through the differing possible alternatives for replacing our dangerous Viaduct.  I've come to agree with the People's Waterfront Coalition who have been arguing for a "no-highway" solution.

Building either the tunnel or the viaduct replacement is so-1990s.  That time is past.  By the time either is built, we will be in another era, the era of diminishing oil, high prices and a desperate need for far better public transit and less dependence on oil.   Let's seriously consider the already well-thought-out alternatives.

Posted by Lynn Allen on January 21, 2007 at 09:50 AM in Policy, Washington Culture | Permalink

Comments

I agree with you on the Viaduct. And it, truly, is a matter of energy conservation as well as money conservation, quality of life, etc,

This is fascinating to read about Japan. Just last night I watched Who Killed the Electric Car -- and you see very clearly that deliberate measures are taken to kill research, buy out great new technologies only to shelve them, and - in this extreme case, actually destroy hundreds of new cars that had unparalleled environmental benefits -- all to protect the right of huge corporations to pollute and use the maximum amount of energy at the maximum price.

I have some hope with the rescinding of the tax break to energy companies and the nearly $14 billion, supposedly, that frees up to develop alternative energy. Of course, big oil will maneuver into that market. Will that industry adopt more sane, less predatory practices? Is there any hope for that? I hope so.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Jan 21, 2007 9:15:36 PM

The idea that the People's Waterfront Coalition's "solution" is "well-thought-out" is, in a word, preposterous.

There is nothing "progressive," whatever that means and whoever is to decide, about bringing the city's and the port's economic activity to a grinding halt. For that surely would be the effect of implementing that proposal, except for rich developers who will get even richer by turning our working port into yuppie condos for millionaires and rabbit warrens for trendoid "new urbanists."

Fortunately, the outcome will be a new, improved Viaduct. I'll wave to you and Ezra when I drive by on it. Oh, and when we're all driving nonpolluting electric cars, they will still need a right of way. Cheers.

Posted by: ivan | Jan 21, 2007 11:58:26 PM

Ivan,

Don't you at least think it is worth a real look? I do. I want the WA State DOT to do a real study of the no-build option. I would love to see what a real forward-looking plan - that takes into consideration the implications of less oil and more public transit - looks like.

Posted by: Lynn | Jan 23, 2007 4:45:21 PM

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