I was amused by Rik Dalvit's Oct. 11 cartoon regarding "Green Energy Production for the Home." His drawing poked fun at gerbils running in a cage powering a TV, flushing a toilet as a source of energy to run a reading light, and an electric eel in an aquarium providing juice for a sound system. Oh I wish it were true!

My personal experience demonstrates, however, that small incremental steps can add up to energy savings. When we moved into our Ilwaco house in 1993, we decided to reduce our electricity use because we knew that the biggest adverse impact on salmon runs is the Bonneville Power Administration's system of big dams. We increased insulation, installed double pane windows, bought an extremely energy efficient refrigerator and built an inexpensive, solar batch water heater. Those measures cut our electricity use by 68 percent, reducing the amount of energy we needed to buy from whatever source. Four years later, we had the opportunity to install a two-panel solar photovoltaic electricity generation system. Those two panels provided 10 percent of our electricity. It didn't hurt that Washington state has one of the most progressive "net metering" laws in the country; when you generate electricity at your site, your meter turns backward and there's no surcharge, extra equipment or other impediment to reaping a payback for your investment.

There is a kernel of truth in Dalvit's drawing, however. Lots of times there is embodied energy in a process - embodied energy that, if captured, could help power some other activity. For example, when the pulp and paper industry burns black liquor, a waste material produced during the paper making process, they are able to achieve two goals: generate electricity and get rid of a waste product.

I suspect that getting rid of the black liquor may be a bigger problem for the industry than I've ever realized. Weyerhaeuser and Longview Fiber are both opposing ballot initiative I-937, claiming that it will raise their power rates. They may be disappointed that the initiative doesn't include burning black liquor as a source of "renewable energy." Well, the black liquor is renewable all right, just like all that plastic packaging that shows up with so many products you buy. The packaging seems never ending - a good enough definition of "renewable" for me - but obviously burning plastic in your wood stove to heat your home isn't a good idea - not healthy although renewable.

What I find interesting is that Longview Fiber spokesman Curt Copenhagen says, in an article in InBusiness, a Longview-based publication, "We're not against those (solar and wind energy) at all, but they need to develop over the course of time," ignoring the fact, I guess, that the solar photovoltaic panel was developed in 1955. He also said, "This is an unneeded, overkill initiative."

Overkill? I don't think so. The thrust of the initiative is to gradually move our society toward energy sources that don't pollute, don't contribute to global warming and don't adversely effect fish runs. Six years from now the initiative would require Washington's largest utilities to obtain 3 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other types of approved renewable energy - 3 percent by 2012. The utilities would have to be using 9 percent approved renewables by 2016 and 15 percent by 2020 and thereafter.

Pacific County's PUD No. 2 will not be impacted by I-937 but has been investing in renewables for the last five years, purchasing wind power from Klickitat PUD and the Bonneville Power Administration through the Northwest Energy Consortium. A survey of PUD No. 2 customers showed high enough consumer interest to warrant the investment. Customers pay a small premium for the renewable energy option.

The InBusiness article reports that Cowlitz PUD is already positioned to exceed the initiative's first benchmark, not by 2012, but 4 years early. The utility is investing in the 200-megawatt White Creek wind farm in Klickitat County, which will supply about 6 percent of its energy by 2008 - twice the amount the initiative requires and 4 years ahead of schedule.

One of Cowlitz PUD's commissioners, Buz Ketcham voted to oppose Initiative 937, citing "local government as a preferred way of managing our community," yet his PUD developed a policy that produces exactly the results the initiative would require. This makes me wonder. Perhaps as in many situations, if big corporate interests are opposed to a proposed law, elected officials must walk a thin line between their best judgment and politically expedient public positions.

Victoria Stoppiello is a free lance writer who knows the cheapest energy you can buy is the energy you save through conservation.

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