Commentary, Opinion

Green for nothing, green for free

By Jim Hurt

Editor’s note: Jim Hurt is a resident of Woodstock.

News flash: Enlightened Republicans have been sighted deep in the forest, traveling in small herds with Bigfoot and other tree huggers who are guiding them gently back into the light. These tired, huddled conservatives are yearning to be free of Trump’s shadow. They actually want to save democracy, climate, forests, economy and Ukraine with a free market, free enterprise, for-profit solution to our CO2 crisis. 

A lucrative climate compromise financed by private money may help us reunite. Hundreds of thousands of construction and farm jobs are at stake.
Ideally, CO2 reduction at point of emission should come hand in hand with active removal of CO2 from the sky simultaneously and profitably. The IPCC, COP26, 27, 28 all say we need to be net-zero globally by the early 2050s, which is far too slow. They also say we need to “remove” CO2 from the atmosphere as fast as possible but not how. 

Mckinsey Sustainability, which reviews IPCC papers, put it like this: “The IPCC’s latest report outlines the scale of the challenge, saying that limiting warming to 1.5C translates into around 6 GtCO2 of (CO2 reduction) per year by 2050. To put this into perspective, that is more than the weight of all petroleum produced today, a monumental endeavor.” 

The Inflation Reduction Act climate law all but reversed the Supreme Court’s backward EPA ruling on power plants just in time for the midterms. Now, new advances in chemistry, agronomy and renewables technology make it financially attractive to transform all central power plants into negative-emission power and storage stations. 

Instead of closing coal, oil, gas or wood plants due to age, carbon gas and cheap solar, we can turn them into fully renewable power and storage stations that emit very little but remove much CO2 from the atmosphere, even as they produce clean watts, hydrogen (H2), strategic fuels and feedstocks. Thanks to new chemistry, CO2 can be captured at the point of emission and reused with H2O to make H2, synthetic fuels and far more. CO2 can also be catalyzed into graphite for graphene, batteries and carbon fiber or calcium carbonate for fertilizer and concrete.

Even more profit and climate benefits can be had by combining the new chemistry with hemp biofuel cultivation, as Canada is doing, and then reusing CO2 from the point of emission to produce H2, synfuels and strategic materials. 

Renewables are only zero-emission except for the CO2 emitted to build them. They do not intrinsically or directly remove CO2 from air. Hemp removes CO2 from air twice as fast as trees via photosynthesis. CO2 reduction must be profitable or will not help save us in time. 

The EPA can no longer force utilities to shift to renewables after the court’s ruling. Utilities are still free to make that shift by themselves for profit with EPA guidance and DOE support with CO2 reduction included. Valuable carbon offsets, carbon removals, tax credits and/or RECs will apply.  

With all that in mind, here are recent recommendations to the Vermont Climate Council and Gov. Scott, calling for rapid cultivation of hemp biofuels in tandem with the profitable renovation and transformation of Vermont’s two wood plants, McNeil and Ryegate, into negative-emission power and storage stations. Though small, these two plants emit over 600,000 tons of CO2 a year, based on EPA estimates. Or Vermont state government, Vermont utilities and Vermont plant owners can profitably renovate these two plants with EPA and DOE support to reduce their CO2 emissions by at least 600,000 tons and remove 600,000 more tons per year from the sky at the same time.

A similar restoration plan for the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is also financially attractive and will certainly create more jobs, profits and climate benefits than building a new nuclear plant there, as industry advocates still seek. Any nuke plan for Vermont Yankee, if seriously proposed, is likely to become a radioactive third rail to most voters in the tri-state region. The nuclear waste crisis is only getting worse. Besides, Vermont is way overdependent for two-thirds of its power on out-of-state sources, especially Hydro-Quebec and Seabrook nuclear. Both are environmentally problematic or ticking bombs. 

Take your pick. Rotting biomass emits much greenhouse gas. Worse, native fishing villages have suffered terribly from methyl mercury poisoning over decades. Nuclear plant ills are etched in thousands of graves and contaminated lives the world over. Vermont’s entire premise for buying Hydro-Quebec and Seabrook nuclear — all green and benign — is terribly wrong.

Speaking of MAGA, one way to make America great for the first time perhaps is to create green jobs for all kinds of Americans, including new immigrants. We mustn’t let these good, desperate people get away without exploiting them as future citizens, taxpayers, consumers, workers and community developers. They’re good for GNP. 

Immigrants are still the life’s blood of our not-yet-great nation. They too deserve a Green New Deal to retrain them as farmers, foresters and firefighters out west and wild east, such as for hurricane relief and reconstruction. Irrigating deserts will help cool our climate significantly and boost food and biofuel cultivation. Hemp offers biofuels, milk, bread, CBD, fabrics, bricks and cars. Let carbon forests multiply. Besides, except for American Indians, we are a nation of immigrants and their children. America can be great like never before if we unite with native citizens, new immigrants and all shades of Americans — white folk too — in support of free and fair elections and healthy climate.

Gov. Scott, Vermont utilities and the Climate Council should unite behind a profitable CO2 reduction plan.

CO2 can be captured at the point of emission and reused with H2O to make H2, synfuels and feedstocks for plastic, concrete, fertilizer, graphite, carbon-fiber and graphene for batteries and more. Paving the way, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne in 2021 that a graphene filter can lower the cost of CO2 capture to $30 per ton. Tokyo Metropolitan University reported in 2022 that a “new carbon sorbent is 99% efficient, lightning fast and easily recyclable.” SkyNano claims its process is “profitable based on the value of the output product from CO2 — carbon nanotubes.”

Tax incentives are a trivial bonus. These options are far better for climate and profit than using CO2 for fracking or enhanced oil recovery, which only puts more CO2 back in the air. On the transportation front, imagine a hybrid electric vehicle that runs on hemp ethanol, biogasoline or biodiesel and reuses CO2 exhaust to make compatible synthetic fuel for the same vehicle(s).That could lead to negative-emission cars.

Moreover, central power and storage that is clean and green can only help to accelerate distributed renewables that, in turn, supply electric vehicles and heat pumps, which cut fuel bills and emissions by over half. High-temperature industrial heat pumps are on sale now to preheat boiler water, ideal for McNeil and Ryegate. Likewise, Stirling engines or the Organic Rankine Cycle method can utilize waste heat from the exhaust stack to make at least 10% more watts for no extra fuel. Renewables are intermittent and need storage and firming power to be reliable. The ever-useful switching yard can directly connect to local solar farms and megawatt-scale batteries. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy is allocating $3.5 billion for direct air capture, even though that approach is still too expensive. Some DOE and Ag money should go to projects that cultivate hemp for biofuels, as Canada has done, to remove CO2 from sky and capture CO2 at the point of emission to make H2, synfuels or vital feedstocks. 

Vermont’s state government, Vermont utilities and plant owners should seek DOE and USDA support to profitably repurpose Vermont’s wood plants and Vermont Yankee, both to capture CO2 at the point of emission and remove CO2 from the atmosphere at the same time. And that will make Vermont more self-reliant and set a good example to the nation, the world and Joe Biden, too.

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