Sunday, September 27, 2009

Power Stations or Locomotives?

This morning I got to do something I generally don't have time for during the week. My wife and I were able to sit together and enjoy a tasty home cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs with grilled tomato and onions. Small pleasures are still great.

While we were eating and chatting, we were also had the news on TV in the background and a story caught my attention.

There was a protest going on about the use of diesel locomotives on a rail link between Toronto and the city's airport. The protesters weren't protesting about the new commuter transport facility. They were protesting the use of diesel locomotives, suggesting that electric locomotives might be better for our health.

A noble but misguided thought!

While I'm not a particular fan of fossil fuels, it stuck me, as it has many times before, that protesters are often ill informed, no matter how well intentioned.

Where do these people think electricity comes from?

Most of the electricity in North America is generated by fossil fuels, coal being the predominant source.

Although coal powered generating stations are being phased out in Ontario and other jurisdictions, coal will still account for most of the power generation across North America in the coming years.

Which is the healthier choice, a fossil powered generating station or a few diesel powered locomotives? I don't know the correct answer to that, but I'm pretty sure the power station is the less healthy choice, however until I know the specifics, I'm not going to be lead by the nose.

I think protesters should know the answer to that kind of question. But in my experience most protesters are light on specifics, using emotional arguments to sway public opinion.

Sadly many good projects are prevented from moving forward because emotional arguments have stirred up public opinion against them and we the public don't generally investigate the merits of these arguments to decide who is right. See my post covering the differences between incineration and gasification.

Just because most of us are removed from the source of production, doesn't make electricity as it is produced today, a clean source. Power stations today belch millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day. Why is electricity produced this way preferable to fossil powered locomotives?

Despite our efforts to generate electricity from clean sources like solar and wind, these two sources will account for less than 10% of our power needs for the foreseeable future.

Protesters; by all means let your feelings be known, but before you do so make sure you are familiar with the facts.


  1. Good points. I'm probably generally on the side of the protesters myself, but I've always wondered why people simply equate electric with clean, without bothering to look upstream and see where the juice comes from.
    At the end of the day there's probably no absolutely clean, no-impact energy source. It's just a question of minimizing the impact as much as possible.

  2. Good points Michael, I think that Metrloinx and GO should have a look at Methes Energies and use biodiesel in their fleet. There are plenty of sustainable feedstocks to choose from when you don't have a large centralized production facility.

    Now how do I get the ear of someone at Metrolinx and GO. Anyone able to help me with that?

  3. I think you have to go right to the top of the house. If the person who runs the show is not interested in a greener approach then you have little hope of succeeding by dealing with someone further down the pecking order. The challenge is to put it into a strategic business perspective rather than a nice to do or good to do. Bottom line; Alternative fuels have to make good business sense.