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Stimulus grants totaling $4.6 million to pay for green energy projects

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Organizations in the Triangle and elsewhere received $4.6 million this week in government grants for green energy in one of the last distributions of stimulus money in this state.

The grants, paid out through the N.C. Department of Commerce, will pay for solar-powered electric vehicle recharging stations in Asheville, swine waste-to-energy projects in Harnett County, and public workshops and exhibits promoting energy-efficient home retrofits.

The grants range in size from about $24,000 to $500,000. Recipients in the Triangle include private businesses and N.C. State University.

The local grants will pay for a geothermal HVAC system at Kyma Technologies in Raleigh, electric vehicle recharging stations by Praxis Technologies in Raleigh, fuel cell units by Microcell Corp. in Raleigh, training in energy audits by Go Green Lighting in Chapel Hill, as well as for the audits themselves to be conducted by Southern Energy Management in Morrisville.

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Why stop when stimulus is dry?

It's hard to believe that the state can't see fit to convert much of our coal-generated power to local fuel sources such as wood and agricultural by-products. Presently, the markets for these things are weak to non-existent, while West Virginia mountain tops are leveled one right after another.

I don't have any problem with what is being done with $4.6 million, except that I'm unsure whether we're doing nearly as much as we can WITHOUT having to use tax $$ such as this.  I see a place for the $4.6 if it someday proves to have "seeded" something that becomes free market, but leadership must not consist of simply digging for government handouts while ignoring market potential.

Meanwhile, right under our noses (literally), there are probably thousands of jobs in nearly every state, including our NC, that could be created almost overnight.  They would replace fossil fuel-related jobs, just as the stimulus money does, and for a fraction of the upfront cost.  But anything that would help rural economies will be opposed by environmental groups, amongst others, such as mining interests.  (What an odd couple, huh?)

For far less investment than wind and solar devices gives us bio-fuel power from our own rural areas.  It's much simpler.  In fact, the average modern wood stove in a den can burn at about 70% efficiency.  Bio-fuel smoke is much more benign than coal smoke, despite misleading claims to the contrary. 

Readers, consider a couple factors involved:

1. ----Coal power generation is roughly 50% efficient, while bio-fuel heat is usually approaching 75% efficient.  It's analagous to your 20mpg mini-van suddenly getting 30mpg.

2. ----Hundreds of millions of tons of fuel is burned annually around the world annually from both wildfires and  prescribed fires of forests and fields.  While it is not nearly enough to fill 100% of our present needs, it can make a huge dent in coal burning. 

Some (more advanced thinking) states already have environmental guidelines and programs in place.  Hospitals, shopping malls, factories, schools, and other gov't. bldgs. are already being heated at 75% efficiency vs 50% with only a trace of sulfuric acid resulting.  Some paper mills that closed due to foreign competition are re-opening as biofuel generation facilities.

Some folks need to be told in the most stern tone to "get the *(#@ out of the way".

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.
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