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Letters and Comments

August 18, 2009

Technology and Stimulus
In his second of two features on technology funding in the federal stimulus bill (“Chasing the Sun,” July/August 2009), David Rotman examined the impact that government spending will have on the future of solar power by reporting on a plan to turn land in Chicago into the nation’s largest urban solar plant.

David Rotman gave a good analysis of large-scale solar energy production, but analyzing only the up-front cost of a new energy production facility doesn’t address whether the investment is sound. The correct method uses life-cycle costing (LCC), which factors in the life of the installation and the ongoing maintenance. The article also overlooks low-temperature geothermal as an alternative energy source. Low-temp geothermal combined with a heat pump is the most efficient form of heating and cooling and could reduce our peak electricity demand. The stimulus bill, which provides for tax credits for both, could make a real difference.
Rick Clemenzi
Asheville, NC

The article provoked much discussion online. One commenter approved of using solar cells but disagreed with Chicago’s use of land.

Much better to place solar on all of the roofs in the US that are used solely for keeping the rain out. The trees growing on the site should be measured for their greenhouse-gas sequestration potential!
Kevin Brown on 7/3/09
Kimberley, British Columbia

Another commenter wondered whether the first step toward reducing fossil fuel demand should be energy efficiency.

The article was a nice overview of solar energy, but isn’t Chicago loaded with older houses that are energy inefficient? A landlord has no economic incentive to increase property cost to lessen the renters’ energy cost. Wouldn’t it be better to upgrade buildings so they use less energy?
Carl Hage on 6/24/09
Sunnyvale, CA

Nuclear Waste in America
Chief correspondent David Talbot interviewed Allison Macfarlane, a geologist at George Mason University and a leading expert on nuclear-waste removal, who recently sat on a National Research Council committee evaluating the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear-power R&D programs (Q&A, July/August 2009). One reader found ­Macfarlane’s remarks unhelpful.

To read Ms. Macfarlane’s responses, one would conclude that the entire project was political and the science is bogus. Though politics were involved, many respectable scientists have studied the site and drawn the opposite conclusion from Ms. Macfarlane. And her response when asked to name a more suitable location–“I haven’t studied anything in detail, and I don’t want to get anybody upset”–is the kind of nonanswer mumbled by politicians, not scientists.
Rick Kossik
Sammamish, WA

Another reader also framed the issue in political terms.

The political realities are simple: President Obama and Senator Harry Reid are trying to preëmpt the licensing review being performed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If the NRC finds that Yucca Mountain is safe for Nevada, why should the country spend billions of dollars and take decades to look for an alternative that may be safer?
Abe Weitzberg
Woodland Hills, CA

A Pound of Cure
Former Wall Street analyst Andy Kessler reviewed stimulus funding for electronic health records (“A Pound of Cure,” July/August 2009) and concluded that the financial structure of the medical industry impedes their progress.

As a physician, I know that medicine’s financing structure is an obstacle to IT benefits. While electronic medical records sound like a solution, most physicians still operate in small businesses. My practice is initiating an electronic records system, and we’re seeing costs rack up already, making me think I’ve made the worst business decision of my career. Even patients don’t see health IT as being in their best interests, since it can limit expensive tests and raise privacy concerns. Yes, medicine’s financing structure creates impediments for IT, but for complex reasons, not because of “a misplaced desire to protect the lucrative status quo.” If only the problem were that easy to fix.
David York, MD
Coeur d’Alene, ID

Apples to Oranges
David Talbot (“Search Me,” July/August 2009) describes a Wolfram Alpha search revealing that on the day of Sir Isaac Newton’s birth, December 25, 1642, the moon was in the waxing-crescent phase. Alas, it is incorrect. Alpha’s lunar calculation was based on the Gregorian calendar, whereas the December 25 date is Old Style; on that day the moon was nearly full. This error has since been corrected.
Joseph Chapman
Boston, MA

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