Diesel Generators- We Aren't That Desperate

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We Aren't That Desperate

Who hasn't stood at a street corner and recoiled from the noxious, hot, sooty, exhaust spewing from a diesel bus or truck? As bad as that is, the exhaust of standby diesel-fueled electric power generators is worse. These smelly, noisy machines are typically used by large businesses as emergency power backups--in earthquakes, for instance. They have virtually no pollution controls and pose a health risk.

Under normal circumstances these generators might almost never be used. But Gov. Gray Davis is considering issuing an executive order to pay owners of these backup generators to run them constantly during Stage 3 power alerts, the highest alert before rolling blackouts. This is an agonizing choice, but the health risk--these generators pour out nitrogen dioxide, a chief smog ingredient--tips the balance against them. A Davis spokesman says the generators, an estimated 17,200 of them statewide, would be run only as a last resort. But if the aim was to avert blackouts, they could be running for hours at a time. As The Times' Gary Polakovic reported Thursday, the generators are concentrated in areas, including Los Angeles, that already have severe air quality problems.

Environmentalists are protesting, saying it would be better and more practical to pay companies to conserve power. The governor also has a plan to cut 20% from the bills of homeowners and businesses that reduce power use by 20%. That program, if pursued aggressively and in combination with other incentives now being offered, would probably save as much power as the diesel generators could make. To use these units in an attempt to stave off blackouts is too desperate and could cause more harm than it prevents.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 25, 2001


We aren't that desperate? Who says so? We either suck in noxious fumes this summer, or sweat in the dark. Talk about a Hobson's choice.

-- JackW (jpayne@webtv.net), May 25, 2001.

It seems to me more like a Catch 22. Either you sweat in the dark, or suck fumes and die of lung cancer. Either way, how can you win?

Who was the guy who posed the classic queston: What would you do if you were buried in cow dung up to your neck, and someone threw a bag of buzzard puke in your face? Choices, anyone? Is there one?

-- Loner (loner@bigfot.com), May 26, 2001.

I'm not certain but perhaps the diesel generator refered to was an old military machine. Last year I attended the Hot Air Jubilee (a local hot air balloon festival) that had a midway with all the trappings of a carnival. More than a dozen vendors sold everything from Italian sausage sandwiches to ice cream, fresh squeezed lemonade and cotton candy from brilliantly lit mobile kitchens.... all powered by a single Caterpillar diesel generator. Not only was the exhaust of this machine not visible but you had to walk up and put your hand on the side of the housing to tell if it was running! If the current diesel technology were to be publicly demonstrated, (and used!) there would be much less public outcry about this obviously short-term solution to the energy shortage.

-- Frank Hill (fhill@absolute-net.com), May 26, 2001.

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