Two Washington Post articles in the past week provide an interesting little localized contrast of the challenges related to finding a path toward an Energy Smart future.
A week ago, the Post reported that Montgomery Aims to Make Green Homes Mandatory. In addition to speaking to changing building codes, the article spent a few paragraphs to discuss other Montgomery County, Maryland, initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. These include “increasing fuel-efficiency standards for its fleet of 1,430 cars, 286 SUVs, 252 vans and 168 pickup trucks” and reviewing SUVs annually “to determine which employees could use a more efficient vehicle.” This includes the County Executive whose car use will also be reviewed.
“If there’s a way to get the county executive around the county with a different vehicle, we’ll certainly be looking into that,” spokesman Patrick Lacefield said.
So, there will be an active program to seek multiple paths for a more fuel efficient vehicle fleet in the county government. That is simply Energy Smart.
But, there is another aspect.
County Executive Leggett rides in a flex-fuel Chevrolet Suburban powered by a mix of ethanol and gas, which reduces carbon emissions and other pollutants.
A short note, “reduces carbon emissions and other pollutants” is quite questionable as an assertion for a systems-of-systems analysis of ethanol in the fuel stream. While the pollution in the tail-pipe emissions from the Suburban will certainly be lowered relative to gasoline, the questionable EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) from ethanol production and distribution calls into question any direct assert of carbon benefits from using it as a replacement fuel.
Note that the article also notes that
“County government would do its part by … using biofuels for all diesel vehicles”.
In other words, Leggett’s vehicle isn’t alone. Montgomery County is moving toward biofuels which may (or may not) help on the Global Warming front.
And, it can hurt on other fronts.
Today, as the third article in an excellent series on the Global Food Crisis, the Post ran Emptying the Breadbasket. Within this article, Bethesda Bagels (located in Montgomery County) is used as an example of the impact that rising flour prices can have on the retail market.
At Stephen Fleishman’s busy Bethesda shop, the era of the 95-cent bagel is coming to an end.
Breaking the dollar barrier “scares me,” said the Bronx-born owner of Bethesda Bagels. But with 100-pound bags of North Dakota flour now above $50 — more than double what they were a few months ago — he sees no alternative to a hefty increase in the price of his signature product, a bagel made by hand in the back of the store.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years,” he said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Fleishman and his customers are hardly alone. Across America, turmoil in the world wheat markets has sent prices of bread, pasta, noodles, pizza, pastry and bagels skittering upward, bringing protests from consumers.
Why the focus? Why tie these together?
While not the sole cause, the vast expansion of the ethanol industry (and the movement of acreage from wheat to corn crops) is a contributor to the rising wheat prices.
Thus, County Executive Leggett: your Ethanol-Gulping McSUV is contributing to higher bagel prices for Montgomer County citizens while not aiding the fight against Global Warming. Sure seems like a lose-lose option to me.