Energy independence begins with you

To the Editor:

The recent disastrous oil accident in the Gulf of Mexico can be a turning point in history. While the fingers are being pointed in all directions — it’s BP, it’s Halliburton, it’s Transocean — the real blame falls on us, the people with insatiable thirst for fuel. All of those companies are only doing our bidding — give us gas, give us oil, give us electricity, and make it cheap. As the “easy” oil gets used up, it becomes more difficult, more dangerous, and more costly to humanity to supply us with fossil fuels.

These people were doing their jobs: dirty, dangerous, unfortunately necessary jobs, and sometimes things do go wrong. And the complicated and unimaginable job of drilling a well one mile under the water — I can’t even imagine the technology involved. One system failure leads to a cascade of failures, and here we are. The real question is not whose fault it is, and who is going to pay for it (hint: we are), but why are we doing it at all. When all the lawsuits are done, the lawyers will make out, and the people of the Gulf and probably beyond will have their lives and livelihoods changed forever. There will be lots of new regulations, of course, higher oil prices, and it will take years, maybe decades, maybe never, for mother nature to repair the damage.

So what can the average person do? It’s time for all of us to seriously reduce our dependence on fossil fuel. There is no simple answer. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Everyone’s needs and resources are different.

Two years ago I decided to significantly reduce my fossil fuel dependence. I looked at electric cars, seemingly a great solution for basic transportation on this Island. Unfortunately, there is not an affordable electric car that goes fast enough to be registered on our state roads. I visited, phoned, and emailed the Registry of Motor Vehicles asking which electric vehicles could be registered in Massachusetts — they shook their heads and looked at me as if I was crazy. I tried riding my bike to work. At my age (don’t ask), the one mile round trip added almost two hours to my workday and only saved a half gallon of fuel a day.

Okay, how about a windmill? As a sailor, I’m pretty aware that we live in a place with some wind. Research proved disappointing. It would have to be above the tree-line — which would make it very tall, and it would only work when the wind was over 11 mph, and under something like 30, and would have to have permits, variances, come down for servicing, not fall on my neighbor’s land, and still only give me half the power I need.

Okay, how about photo-voltaics? Well, covering my entire roof with 15-percent efficient photovoltaic panels at about $40,000, and hooking up to the grid or installing storage batteries, which need to be replaced every few years, would still only give me half the power I need. Wait for new technology. It must be coming.

Further research showed that we use about one third of our energy for heat, one third for domestic hot water and one third to power electric things in our houses. If almost two thirds of my energy is for heat needs, why not use the sun’s heat directly to take the edge off my fuel use? The engineer and I went round and round. I want heat. No, he said, you only use heat for six months a year. You can use the wood stove. The big windows face south and you get great solar gain. You use hot water all year round, and more in the summer, what with guests, towels, changing sheets, outdoor showers, and sweaty summer clothes. Okay, I grumbled. And I took my home equity line and installed Solar Hot Water on my house. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but I was willing to do my bit. The propane truck came and went. Once, twice, three times. Wow. I’ve used only 207 gallons of propane this year, including dryer and cooking . I didn’t have to do “pre-buy.” I don’t wince (as much) when the California relatives take 20-minute showers. I fill my (decadent) hot tub with water heated by the sun. Next year, we will run radiant heat under the cold bathroom tile floor. The tax credits (30-percent federal, and $1,000 state) went to pay down the equity line. The interest is deductible. The money I spent on propane, I now use towards my equity line. I’ve increased the value of my home, the sustainability of my living in my home, and decreased my dependence on fossil fuels. Himself is now doing solar thermal installations. When more technology becomes available, I will go for it.

Now is the time for us to get off our butts, stop complaining, and take meaningful steps to our own independence. Invest in your own independence and the well being of your family. Stop giving hard earned money to giant corporations and countries who don’t even like you. Do your part in reducing our nation’s debilitating dependence on fossil fuels, fuels of high cost to our nation, our world, and humanity.

Diane HartmannWest Tisbury