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The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis
by Greg Pahl; foreword by Richard Heinberg

AVAILABILITY: Active Record (Readily Available)

Publication Date: March 2007
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Binding: Perfect

Description: A clear-eyed view of the critical situation of oil depletion we face and offers a way out.

Every day, more people finally "get it." Global warming is for real and getting worse faster than previously expected. M. King Hubbert's oil peak looms, and cheap petroleum is a thing of the past. We face an energy crisis. This book tells you what you need to do to meet the challenge.

'The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook' provides a clear-eyed view of the current energy situation and points toward a sustainable path forward. Greg Pahl examines renewable energy technologies currently available and homes in on strategies that can be adopted by individuals and, especially, communities. Such cooperative initiatives have been common in Europe for years and are beginning to gain a foothold in the U.S. because these medium-scale projects successfully bring people together to create collective energy security for a neighborhood, town, or region while strengthening the local economy.

Each chapter focuses on a different renewable energy sector - solar, wind, water, biomass, liquid biofuels, and geothermal - then reviews their advantages and disadvantages and describes numerous examples of proven local initiatives. 'The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook' is an eloquent appeal and a practical handbook for community and regional action to deal head-on with environmental challenges and to take responsibility for energy supplies now controlled by large, distant utilities and consortiums. This is the book for anyone ready to take meaningful steps toward a more sustainable future.

"This book is for pioneers in the great project of the new century. It will remain a touchstone informational resource for many years to come. May we all engage deliberately, proactively, and enthusiastically in the energy transition, and learn to enjoy life without fossil fuels." - Richard Heinberg, from the Foreword.

Greg Pahl, author of 'Biodiesel: Growing the New Economy' and 'Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options', has been following renewable energy issues for more than 25 years. He is a founding member of the Vermont Biofuels Association and lives in Weybridge, Vermont. A selection of his articles are at www.gregpahl.com.

Richard Heinberg is a research fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. He is the award-winning author of seven books including 'Powerdown' and 'The Oil Depletion Protocol'. His monthly "MuseLetter" is available at www.richardheinberg.com.

Review(s): "As the world passes through Peak Oil and society begins to Powerdown and Relocalize, this book will be of tremendous assistance to citizens and communities. Greg Pahl succinctly outlines why we need to use much less energy and then gives options and examples of how renewable energy can be produced locally. This handbook should be on the work-desk of anyone planning for a Post Carbon world." - Julian Darley, founder and director Post Carbon Institute

"If you have read enough already about our problems and are motivated to get to work, this book is for you. By placing renewable energy into a broad social context, it will help citizens work cooperatively with governments and businesses to create community-scaled solutions. I wish I'd had this book years ago." - Dr. Jason Bradford, Willits Economic Localization

"As oil reserves dwindle and global warming accelerates, a rapid switch to renewable energy is imperative. 'The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook' provides an inspiring vision and a wonderfully specific blueprint for saving both the planet and our other greatest natural resource - our shredded sense of community." - Ross Gelbspan, author of 'Boiling Point' and 'The Heat Is On'.

"'The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook' should be in the hands of every community activist across North America. It promises to be the catalyst that finally moves community ownership to the forefront of renewable energy development." - Paul Gipe, author of 'Wind Power: Renewable Energy for Home, Farm, and Business'

"Greg Pahl's 'Energy Handbook' is a lucid, easy-to-read guide to what citizens of the planet can do about our energy dilemmas." - Dan Berman, author of 'Who Owns the Sun'

Review by Jennifer Barker, EORenew (www.solwest.org):

Back in the 1960s, when American scientists were looking for intelligent life in space by scanning for planets that radiated more energy than might be expected, Reggie Moore was a high-school science teacher in Kansas. As he told his class then, "It hasn't occurred to them that an advanced civilization would not radiate their energy into space." Future children will probably ask their parents why we wasted all those valuable resources by burning our fossil fuels, when we could use them to make the products to build ourselves a sustainable future. If we can put to use the tools described in 'The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook', we might someday rise to Mr. Moore's description of an advanced civilization!

Author Greg Pahl thinks that very soon, our prodigal energy habits are going to result in a major crisis. He wrote the 'Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook' as a resource guide for people who want to consider strategies to power their communities with renewable energy. The majority of the book consists of a survey of renewable energy options by source, whether currently available and being used, or in development and promising to be available within the next several years. Pahl's descriptions include portraits of groups using each renewable energy source in practical applications today, including their recommendations for effective application of energy to our needs. He discusses the ramifications of each type of energy use, negative as well as positive. The book includes recommendations for ownership models and for community energy strategies.

The only place where he diverges from the path of tried-and-true, available-right-now, is in the discussion about bio-energy. He admits that "cellulosic ethanol... is the Holy Grail of the ethanol industry." He describes existing cellulosic ethanol plants ("technology more or less in hand"), and efforts underway to commercialize the fuel, but doesn't say why this is not exactly happening right now. I can see enormous pitfalls for the cellulosic approach, the two most obvious being: if we need to bio-engineer an enzyme that will rapidly eat cellulose and turn it into sugars, what happens if this bio-engineered product gets loose? It's been promised that other genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) would cause no harm, but we are already seeing the fallout from GMO food crops contaminating the natural environment. And the second pitfall is soil fertility, which is being currently maintained only by the addition of fossil fuel fertilizers, since we have been mining the soil's organic biomass for decades. Pahl describes a vacuum-cleaner approach to organic matter "waste," but perpetuates the myth that biomass harvesting is a closed-loop with the only soil impacts being erosion and competition for space with food crops.

Right up-front, Pahl tells us "It's important to understand that this new economy is going to involve significant reductions in consumption... and substantial changes to our lifestyles and patterns of living." He details Willits, California's attempt to quantify the amount of energy they import, and the amount of renewable energy available in their surroundings. The Willits group determined that the community would have to reduce consumption by at least 50% before they could even begin to talk about balancing their energy budget. Something is going to have to change in the way we do business and bring comfort to our homes.

Pahl's message, though, is essentially upbeat. While he warns us that there is no "magic bullet" in any one technology, he feels that the community approach to diversified and distributed generation can save us, if only we will set ourselves to the problem, and work at it with a will! He sees this process as an opportunity to refashion our society into a more sustainable and equitable model based on strong local communities and cooperation.

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