Recently, I found myself in a conversation with a friend from college who works for a company that develops, operates, and owns wind farms. When I asked how they are managing in this economy, I received two responses; first, that the decrease (or possible elimination) in federal funding for wind renewable energy will slow growth over the next few years, and second, that the decrease in natural gas prices has really hurt their operations. Congress has a big decision to make as current energy tax credits under the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit package are scheduled to expire this year. If left to expire, much of our country’s renewable energy developments will be wasted. This reality, combined with lower natural gas prices, has put wind energy into a compromising position. The basic economic decision with lower rates in natural gas would be to operate with natural gas and continue to be reliant on a limited resource for the long-term. This leads to a dilemma for us as energy users. Where do we draw the line on the short-term benefit of natural gas vs. the long-term benefit for future generations by advocating, implementing, and using renewable energy sources? When is it the right time to sacrifice today for the sake of tomorrow?
I, myself, faced a similar dilemma recently when it came to my household’s recycling. We have always done curbside recycling where it was easy to just throw everything into one bin, and the hardest labor we had was to take it to the end of the street once a week. However, now that I work closely with a drop-off recycling operation that produces funding for a local non-profit, I have to look at my recycling through a different set of lenses. I have come to understand how easy it is to throw away items that could be recycled as well as understand that not all items that I attempt to recycle actually get recycled. Several recent conversations have left me doubtful of local recycling operations. For example, Michigan has some of the lowest landfill rates in the country, so when it comes to waste haulers that do recycling, it may be more cost efficient to discard recycling goods along with waste. Also, households aren’t always careful of what are considered contaminants in the recycling bin leading to the entire bin becoming trash. One greasy pizza box in your container may be reason enough for the whole bin to become trash. I have taken the approach based on recently learned knowledge that I should be personally responsible for my recycling. It takes more time and effort on our part and in the short-term has no immediate benefit to us, but I believe for the long-term it is the right thing to do.
As it relates to the renewable energy dilemma, I sense an eerily similar situation like we faced in the late 70’s when oil prices were high, and Jimmy Carter first advocated strongly for the use of solar energy. When oil prices finally dropped again, so did the desire for solar energy use. Where could we be today if we had worked harder at the renewable energy infrastructure back then? I believe as we face the renewable energy issue, we must consider the long-term impact of our choices. If we let ourselves slip back into status quo we may sacrifice a lot of the infrastructure, time, money, and advancements that renewable energy sources have made in the last decade. I hope that we as individuals, households, businesses, and communities can begin to make the right choices today for the sake of tomorrow.