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A miner miracle, and our energy dilemma

Clark Behind The Headlines

From HLN's Money Expert Clark Howard

Chile, a country that despite political difficulties has done so much in terms of economic progress in the last 40 years, has shown, yet again, its creativity and ingenuity in the rescue of those miners trapped underground since early August.

It’s been an amazing achievement, of both human energy and the human spirit, from engineers and scientists to technicians and the miners themselves, that the whole world has marveled at.

And think about the dangers for miners, being that far underground. Every day, miners here and overseas do very dangerous work.

You may have heard me, in the past, criticize coal as a source of energy. But the fact is, even though solar, as an example, is increasing its install base in the United States, we are years and years and years away from solar or wind or any other “renewable” dealing with our shortage of energy. Nuclear is a viable alternative, but it will always have both hands tied behind its back because of all the groups lined up against it. That’s unfortunate, because it could make a big difference in terms of pollution and energy independence.

So we’re still left with coal. The problem with coal is, it’s filthy. It eats up the air with massive pollution. And no one has come up with a workable, affordable sequestration (“clean coal”) technology. Coal will, for the foreseeable future, fill a lot of our energy needs, both here and overseas.

But we should not ignore the fact that we need to be looking at long-term alternatives.

Just look at solar. Ten years ago, solar was a joke in what it terms of what it cost to install and the payback period. But what happens with technology is that, over time, the providers get smarter and the product gets cheaper. And we’re getting closer to a time where solar will be cost-competitive. Nuclear, if we can deal with all the licensing issues, is cost-competitive. Once a nuclear plant is in place, it’s so cheap to generate every unit of energy. Natural gas, because of recent breakthroughs, is another energy source that shows great promise.

So often, we are guilty of what’s known as static analysis. We look at things as they are, and we think that’s the way they’re going to be. Based on static analysis, we would never have tried to install the first solar panel. There are technologies that haven’t been perfected or even invented yet that will provide us with alternatives for energy.

So, I still look at coal as a power source of the past that we will use for years to come. But long term, we’re going to have to develop other things for so many reasons. And right now, we as a country don’t have our act together on that.

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