Daily Archives: 08/01/2005

Bio-Diesel, Gasohol, And the Energy Bill

Since I was so enamored by my friend’s new Prius last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about gasoline and alternative fuels. So I was surprised by a letter to the editor in today’s Pacific Daily News about developing bio-diesel resources here on Guam. The letter states that other Pacific island nations like Fiji, Kiribati, and Vanuatu are using copra as a substitute for diesel fuel. It sounds like a good idea, at least for existing government vehicle fleets, school buses, trucks, and heavy equipment. But I seriously doubt that Guam has the amount of coconuts available to produce sufficient quantities of bio-diesel. Development of residential lots destroyed most of the coconut plantations on Guam, and any new efforts at raising coconuts locally will take decades before the trees will bear fruit. Maybe we could import coco-diesel from the Philippines?

But then why bother with bio-diesel at all? Most cars and trucks built in the last decade can handle almost pure grain alcohol instead of gasoline with a few tweaks of the fuel system. Make your own Fuel details the particulars about producing ethyl alcohol, ethanol, in a home still using corn, molasses, or any other feed crop. Most cars can burn ethanol with no problems, only requiring a redesigned O2 sensor and fuel system computer to adjust the air/fuel mix. Many models are already equipped with the necessary software, including Ford Taurus, Explorer, Chrysler Sebrings, Dodge Ram trucks and minivans, and some Chevy trucks and SUV’s.

Of course ethanol has its problems too. Critics say it takes more energy to create ethanol in sufficient quantities than it releases, primarily when the use of petroleum products in fertilizers, farm equipment and transportation are included in the equation. As such, it represents nothing more than a multi-billion dollar subsidy to the nation’s corn farmers while adding to the complexity of the nation’s energy infrastructure. More significantly, converting the country’s entire corn yield into ethanol would only cut the United States’ consumption of gasoline by 20%. Yeah, we use that much gasoline. So is ethanol worth the effort? Well, I guess we’re about to find out.

The House passed a monumental energy bill last week that will double the amount of ethanol produced in the nation by 2012, to nearly 8 billion gallons. With oil prices hitting $61 today, I think exploring our fuel options with ethanol and bio-diesel will at least stretch the current petroleum reserves and give up some breathing space before the “Long Emergency” comes crashing down upon us. Regardless, it is pretty obvious that growing our fuel on farms will not replace our dependency on oil, either in Illinois or here on Guam. What we need to do is cut back on demand, car pool to work, take the bus, ride a bike, or even walk where we need to go. It is a shocking idea in America, a country that loves its automobiles. But I am afraid we better get used to walking again, because there is an energy crunch coming.

Local News Roundup

Time for a quick stroll through the Guam headlines.

  • Gutierrez Slips Through D.A.’s Fingers – Again: The case against former Governor Carl Gutierrez was dropped last week, minutes before it was scheduled to go to trial. Justice Richard Benson ruled that the former governor broke no laws in soliciting retroactive retirement benefits from the GovGuam Retirement Fund. Gutierrez must be feeling cocky after his second exoneration and publicly chided Attorney General Doug Moylan for wasting his time and taxpayer’s money. As much as I loathe Gutierrez, I must admit he has a point.
  • Micronesian Kingfisher Born On Guam: The Micronesian Kingfisher, known as the sihek in Chamorro, was driven to the brink of extinction by the infamous brown tree snake. For the first time in over two decades, a sihek chick has been hatched on Guam.
  • Power Rates Rise 11% – Again: For the second time this year, the Public Utilities Commission approved a 10% to 11% rate increase for the Guam Power Authority. Apparently the power utility has been running in the red because of the increased cost of fuel. Guam receives all it’s electrical power from oil fired generators, making the island especially susceptible to the current oil crisis. I wish they would investigate putting in solar or wind power on Guam, but that will never happen. Instead we’ll fritter away money on deep sea convection, tidal generators or other pie in the sky ideas and continue to suffer sporadic power from the oil burning generators.
  • Guam Police Department drops the ball: Last December GPD broke its biggest drug case in years and raided a meth lab in Sinajana. Last week all charges were thrown out when it was revealed that the police department did not follow proper procedure during a search and all evidence of the drug lab was suppressed. Now all four people arrested in connection with the ice lab are free.
  • My ISP merged with the cable company: Marianas Cablevision gobbled up ECCOMM, my ISP for the last 9 years. Apparently they are giving up the DSL market for cable modems now that GTA is taking customers for half what they were charging. Too bad I don’t have cable TV, though my land lady does. I guess I better go check out GTA’s new internet offerings. Of course they have to fix my damn phone first…
  • Surprise, surprise. The Chamber of Commerce opposes minimum wage hike: It’s never the right time for business leaders to raise wages. After all, Guam’s economic recovery is precarious, and forcing business owners to pay a living wage will only encourage them to close up shop and leave island, right? Is that a threat?
  • Pork Bellies: Looks like Madeleine Bordallo is earning her keep after all. News cames down today that several recent bills approved in Congress will mean more Federal dollars coming to Guam. First of all, Guam is set to receive $105 million for improvements to the nation’s infrastructure, including $6 million for a new wharf, $6.6 million for three bridges in Agaña, and $400,000 for Guam Mass Transit to purchase new buses, all from the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act. Secondly, she managed to get the entire island of Guam classified as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, allowing businesses on island preferred access to Federal contracts under legislation she introduced. Congrats to the Congresswoman, now maybe we can afford to raise the minimum wage to $6.25 after all…

Wild Areas Of The World

Following an interesting article in the New York Times about the last wild places left in the United States, I came across this Columbia University project called Wild Areas. Fewer and fewer untouched places left. At times I think our species is just like a plague of locusts on this planet.

Jarbidge wilderness, Nevada
I was particularly taken with this breathtaking photo of the Jarbidge wilderness in Nevada. It looks like something conjured up out of a Rilke poem. Jarbidge is one of the areas identified in the lower 48 states as the most pristine wilderness left.

Meteorite Man

Here’s an interesting career: Mike Miller is a professional Meteorite Finder, selling meteorites that he finds across the American Southwest with a metal detector. He makes enough from his meteorites that he quit his job with a trucking company and still keeps his family of 9 fed and clothed. Amazing!