Out to Pasture: Alternative Energy? Let's Try People Power

December 7, 2010 09:51 AM

A friend of mine is in the process of completing a lease to let wind energy companies erect several of those big wind turbines on his farm. At the same time, it looks like bipartisan support for ethanol will survive into this self-proclaimed earmark-phobic Congress. I am not anti-windmill, or anti-solar for that matter. We pump water on our place with both, and I’m more than pleased with the results. But I’d prefer electricity if it were available in the right places.

Not because I am pro-global warming, but because of the upkeep cost. I continue to think that ethanol is false economy and I suspect that no small part of the support for it comes from urban folks who are glad to see it driving cattle feedlots out of business. But that doesn’t mean I’m anti-alternative energy. Far from it, in fact. I’ve just got my own ideas about how to make use of it.

Big problems. There are some serious problems worrying our political leadership these days.
There is an obesity epidemic. Our kids are fat and lazy. This increases health care costs, contributes to type 2 diabetes and, well, we’ve all seen those ladies with old-person bodies in young-person pants. No good can come of that.

People drive big SUVs and leave their cell phones on the charger all day and the bathroom lights
on. Then they protest the price of energy-efficient lightbulbs. High energy costs are making it so people can hardly afford their heating and air conditioning bills.

As of this writing, almost 10% of people in the U.S. are looking for jobs and not finding them. Too many people lack marketable skills for high-wage jobs. Meanwhile, the cost of higher education grows.

A different idea. Why not take the billions we’re pouring into alternative energy research and divert it to developing human-driven energy devices?

To get an idea of how it would work, think of a school where the desks are also recumbent exercise cycles—kid-driven energy generators, feeding into a central grid like many small, whining windmills.

I know this will work. At our barn house, I’ve rigged a cycle so that I can do my writing, bookkeeping, Internet research and Fox News-watching while I pedal.

I spend at least an hour a day on it—many days, several hours. The machine clocks the amount of time I pedal and how many calories I burn. It’s not unusual to burn 2,000 calories a day—500 to 1,000 calories an hour, depending on how fast and continuously I pedal.

If our kids spend six hours a day pedaling while they learn, they could burn 5,000 extra
calories. Plus, they would generate enough electricity to power their school and probably put excess power into the grid.

If you burn that many calories a day, you can eat all the Big Macs you want. At least I do. That’s why our forebears weren’t fat despite all the bacon gravy and apple pies that Grandma made.

The riding part takes no attention. You’d have plenty of brain waves left to practice spelling, study environmental science or whatever kids avoid doing in school these days. And the school system is just the start.

You could set up similar systems in unemployment offices—it would take minimal retraining.
I don’t have the wherewithal to do the math to figure the cost of this system, but I bet it would be cheaper than corn-based ethanol. And it wouldn’t be nearly as negative on feeder calf prices this fall.

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