Renewable energy source s?are now cost-competitive

A July 11 letter writer challenged "environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club to provide the public" with comparisons of costs between renewable energy sources and fossil-fuel energy sources.

As a member of the Energy Committee of the local Sierra Club, I'm taking up the challenge.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA) generates new estimates of these costs annually. To compare costs, the USEIA assumes that each type of electricity is generated by a brand-new power plant. It then calculates the capital and financing costs of that plant, then adds in fuel, operations and maintenance costs. The efficiency of each type of plant is also considered. All subsidies and all environmental impacts were ignored in arriving at these costs.

The following numbers (U.S. averages) are from the spring 2012 USEIA report, and they assume that the new power plants will be constructed in 2017. I've expressed the costs as cents per kWh of electrical energy produced. Conventional coal, 10; advanced coal with carbon capture, 14; natural gas (advanced combined cycle), 7; natural gas (advanced combined cycle with carbon capture), 9; advanced nuclear, 11; geothermal, 10; biomass, 12; onshore wind, 10; offshore wind, 33; solar photovoltaic, 16; solar thermal, 25; and hydroelectric, 9.

Except for offshore wind and solar thermal, these prices fall within a narrow range. However, these prices do not account for the global warming caused by introducing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) are burned. How can one put a price on that? What is the value of preserving civilization as we know it? Fortunately, we don't need to choose between cheap (but dangerous) fossil fuels and expensive (but safe) renewables. The USEIA study shows that renewables are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Now is the time to start converting to 100 percent renewable electricity.

Joel A. Huberman



Tomaski might have walked ?without manslaughter charge

Donn Esmonde's July 13 diatribe against the prosecutors in the Alan Tomaski case was entertaining. The headline is right: the prosecutors should not have allowed the alternative manslaughter charge. But the column's conclusion is wrong: that mistake is not necessarily why Tomaski will be able to "soon walk among us."

Certainly, District Attorney Frank Sedita's admission to not being infallible is creditworthy. But we absolutely do not know that the DA's blunder in missing the manslaughter statute of limitations "loophole" is "why Alan Tomaski, killer, will soon walk among us." Even without the manslaughter charge, the jury might still have found Tomaski not guilty of murder, and he could have walked out of the courtroom a free man.

There is a significant difference between the proof needed for a murder conviction and the proof required for a manslaughter conviction. The fact that the DA decided to include an alternative manslaughter charge indicates some concern as to whether or not the jury would convict of murder – the top charge made against Tomaski.

The unavoidable fact is that murderers and other criminals "walk among us" every day. Many defendants have never been caught or have escaped by the statute of limitations "loophole" that Esmonde describes. Others managed to skate through the judicial process because the prosecution did not have enough proof to convict them or because the jury could not unanimously agree on that defendant's guilt.

There is much that could be done to avoid this. The Legislature could lengthen, perhaps even remove, all statutes of limitation. The required standards for arrest and indictment could be softened. Convictions could be allowed on a majority vote of jurors rather than requiring a unanimous verdict. The list of possibilities is endless, even though constitutional amendments might be required to make many of the "improvements." But, inevitably, our America would then look less like itself and more like autocratic regimes around the world.

It may be a troubling choice, but most of us prefer having guilty criminals walk among us in public rather than having innocent men and women walk among the guilty in prison.

William H. Gardner



So-called class warfare? has been around for years

Lately some politicians and pundits have been using the Marxian term "class warfare" while describing and analyzing proposals that the government should impose higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. I find this puzzling.

During my working life that began in 1949, I changed jobs several times and received many promotions. Every one of these changes increased my pay and placed me in a higher tax bracket. I have met a few people who declined a promotion because they did not think that being in a higher tax bracket was to their advantage.

Later on in life, I had some investment income and that again put me in a higher tax bracket. But surely all employed Americans have had the same experience because the United States and all other Western countries have adopted a progressive personal income tax system that takes from higher-income people a larger fraction of income than it takes from lower-income people. If that is class warfare, then we have lived under it at least since the end of World War II.

George J. Neimanis



Retest all drivers,? not just the elderly

The media focus on elderly drivers and whether or not they should be retested or driving past a certain age is grossly unfair. In my experience, elderly drivers are not the problem drivers. They never seem to be in a hurry, and therefore do not speed, run red lights or cut off other drivers. They are not texting or eating burritos while driving. They are not blasting their bass tubes so loud that they cannot hear a car horn or ambulance siren. They are not out cruising and racing around in 400 hp sports cars or souped-up tuners.

I have come close to getting creamed three times in the last three weeks. One young lady ran a red light. A young man rocketed from a hotel parking lot into a traffic circle without looking, stopping or yielding to other motorists in the circle. Last night, a driver raced down an exit ramp and over two lines of traffic, narrowly missing my car. He was driving too fast to notice the yield sign and reduced speed limit signs he just passed. Each driver appeared to be under 30.

If we are going to retest drivers, it should apply to everyone, and it should be done often. Better yet, enact tougher penalties and stiffer fines on those who break motor vehicle laws. That would be the fairest and most effective approach to getting "dangerous" drivers off of the road.

Chris Maher