By Hardy Jackson
If you didn’t know it, alternative energy efforts are being undertaken in the region.
Well, as our late President Richard Nixon was fond of observing, I’ve got this to say about that.
Putting eight big-old windmills with 120-160 foot blades up on a ridge in north Alabama seems a super dandy idea to me. The wind will blow, the blades will turn, the generators will gin, the energy will be sold to TVA which will sell it back to customers at, I suppose, TVA rates and half of the homes in Cherokee County will be lit without any greenhouse gases expelled into the atmosphere.
Now admittedly, some folks don’t like the idea. They think the big windmills will visually pollute the countryside.
I can see their point, but the region is already crisscrossed with power lines carrying electricity near and far, so what will a few more ugly towers matter. Truth be told, I find it amusing that folks can become overnight aesthetic environmentalists and ignore the pollution they can’t see. Down south of there a few years ago some lake-front property owners got their panties in a wad when brown sludge appeared in the water. When the company dumping the stuff cleaned up the color of the discharge (though not the discharge itself) the uproar faded.
The water was still dirty, but you couldn’t see it.
On the other hand, we could declare the windmills to be windmills, like they have in Holland, only modern, plant some azaleas and camellias and pretty soon people will come around to see them and a whole new windmill tourist industry will be born.
Maybe the windmill company can set up a few in Montgomery. The hot air from the legislature could surely generate power a-plenty.
Meanwhile, down on the coast another form of alternative energy is making its appearance and promising to solve all sorts of energy problems.
A couple of years ago Jimmy Buffett and his sisters Lucy and Laurie, donated a 33-foot boat to the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. The Miss Peetsy B is named for Buffett’s mother, “Peets,” who passed away in 2003.
Buffett is a USM alum and “Peets” was a 1940 graduate of what was then Gulf Park College for Women, which is where the research lab is located today.
What makes the donation unique is not the vessel, but how it is powered.
Yessir, the engines of The Miss Peetsy B have been converted to run on used vegetable oil.
Talk about your circle of life.
Buffett fries up fish and shrimp at his Margaritaville restaurants, sister Lucy fries ‘em up at her Lulu’s at Homeport in Gulf Shores, the cafeteria at the research lab fries ‘em up, then they take the oil, pour it into the tank, and the boat goes out to get more shrimp and fish to start the process all over again.
Now think about it folks.
Two things that Alabama has plenty of – hot air and grease – both available for alternative fuels.
Forget fracking, forget pipelines going hither and yon, forget greenhouse gases. As for oil spills, I am not sure how biodegradable used vegetable oil is, but it is “vegetable” which has gotta be better than petroleum.
Of course this is not the first time Alabamians have recycled to solve a problem.
Back during the Civil War, the Confederate munitions works at Selma was running short of nitre – a necessary ingredient in the making of gunpowder. John Harrolson, local agent for the Nitre and Mining Bureau, knew that one of the readily available sources of nitre was urine.
So, he put an announcement in the local paper calling on Selma women to save their “chamber lye” and deposit it in the barrels being sent round to collect it.
It is unclear how successful this approach was, however, the effort inspired a series of randy poems that rank as some of the era’s best. (If you want to read them Google up Harrolson or rush out and get yourself a copy of Rivers of History and contribute to the Will and Anna Jackson college fund.)
If Alabama women could contribute thusly to Southern cause, why can’t Southern fry cooks do their part to free us from dependence on foreign oil?
And if Alabama innovators could take the discarded and useless and turn it into something of value, why can’t they harness the exhaling from the legislature to turn the turbines to light our homes?
But why limit this to Alabama?
Throughout the region, folks are frying all sorts of things, meanwhile, everywhere politicians gather, the hot air rises. Now is the time to make use of both.
Harvey H. Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.