Power Points | Busting the Biodiesel Myth and a Heartfelt Thank You

by Elisabeth Monaghan, Editor-in-Chief

In the July/August 2017 issue of EET&D, I wrote that I am looking into buying a new car. After my initial research into energy-efficient options, I explained that I am leaning towards purchasing a hybrid.

The day the digital issue of the magazine was posted, I received an email from Cody Graham with the National Biodiesel Board. In his email, Graham let me know he had concerns with my perceptions of biodiesel fuel and offered to speak with and educate me about the fuel source. Fortunately, I took him up on that.

Prior to our conversation, Graham had looked at the websites I referenced in my column and understood how I had arrived at my conclusions. He then pointed me to the website for his organization (www.biodiesel.org), where there is great information, including a fact sheet that addresses certain myths the general public has about biodiesel fuel. Because I had a couple of EET&D readers tell me they, too, are looking into purchasing a car that runs on renewable energy, I am taking this opportunity to pass along more accurate information about biodiesel.

One of the greatest myths is that biodiesel smells like French fries or vegetable oil. That was my assumption as well. The truth is fuel-grade biodiesel must be produced to strict industry specifications to be considered a legal motor fuel, so if a car smells like fried food, it is likely running on “homemade biodiesel”. Otherwise, the smell is similar to that of regular diesel.

In response to my concern that biodiesel could gel in cold weather, Graham pointed out that like regular diesel, biodiesel will gel in cold weather, but also like regular diesel cars, it can be treated for winter use. According to biodiesel.org, a person can use up to a 20 percent blend of biodiesel year-round, in any weather condition. B20 can be treated for winter use, similar to how Diesel #2 is treated. As is the case with all types of automobiles, those that run on biodiesel require proper care and maintenance as well as advance preparation in the event of cold weather.

In the two issues I have edited since joining the magazine, I have asked for comments or suggestions. I am sincere in this request and greatly appreciate Cody Graham for taking the time to contact me and to educate me on myth versus reality when it comes to biodiesel fuels.

We are putting this issue to bed, just as another hurricane has hit, this one decimating Puerto Rico and parts of the Caribbean. With hurricane season lasting until early November, this nightmare could continue for several weeks. In my landlocked state of Colorado, the most problematic weather conditions we face are hailstorms and blizzards. Both can wipe out power and topple trees, but we do not face the devastation that threatens those who live in the path of hurricanes. In a blizzard-caused power outage, it can be a cold and uncomfortable wait for power to be restored, but we have no reason to doubt that the power will be restored.

Those affected by hurricanes experience much more than the inconvenience of their power going out for a few days. By the time the storms have subsided and those affected by them are putting their lives back together with what little they have left, getting the power back can mean the difference between life and death. The staff of Jaguar Expo and the EET&D team want to acknowledge all of those first responders who kept the loss of life to a minimum. As members of the global electric energy community, we also express our heartfelt gratitude to those line workers who have already begun the cleanup and may be working for months to get people back online.

On its website OSHA lists the hazards line workers face on a daily basis, such as electrocution, falling, being struck or crushed by falling limbs, polls, cranes, etc. (not to mention dehydration or exhaustion). Throw in the instability of a site post-hurricane, and the potential for accidents is even greater. Line workers are aware of the dangers they face even in the best of circumstances. (For years, the occupation of line worker has received the dubious recognition by Forbes, CNN, CNBC and other major media outlets of being one of the 10 most dangerous.) The reality is, these men and women are committed to helping people return to some sense of normalcy.

Thousands of line workers from throughout the United States and Canada have rallied to help those who were hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. As Hurricane Maria continues to ravage whatever is in her path, it is uncertain how long it will take to get Puerto Rico back online. Based on the incredible amount of damage, it will require thousands of more utility workers and could take years to restore Puerto Rico’s power.

Line workers are not recognized as heroes, but the work they do is most definitely heroic. To acknowledge the brave work of those who helped the Tampa, Florida area, one community held a thank you dinner. Marilyn Meyers, a Girl Scout troop leader and mother, felt it was important to show appreciation for the line workers. With the assistance of three other mothers, Seminole High School and the Seminole Booster Club, Meyers organized a dinner/festival. She then shared information about it on her Facebook page. The post went viral and more than 300 volunteers showed up to assist with the dinner. They served about 400 linemen and women, most of whom were from outside of Florida.

Beckwith Electric, a Tampa Bay-based manufacturer for the power industry also participated in the event. When asked what motivated Beckwith to get involved, Wayne Hartmann, VP of message and media explained, “When a disaster strikes, like Hurricane Irma, linemen often deal with two misfortunes: the utility customers with outages and their own home and family situations. Bravely, they restore the system without complaint, working in dangerous situations often under extreme conditions.” Hartmann also pointed out how these workers had to disrupt their lives and leave their families to assist with post-hurricane efforts, which means after a long and strenuous day in the field they return to a hotel without power, experiencing the same outages and conditions as those they are serving.

When the 2017 hurricane season has ended, new practices may be implemented to prepare for the next big hurricane. People will continue to rebuild their lives. Federal and local governments will work with the business community to repair and rebuild infrastructure. The line workers, who came from other locations to help out, will return to their daily routines. There will be no ticker tape parade for the individuals or organizations that dropped everything to respond to those in need of assistance. Few will experience the type of recognition those in the Tampa Bay area received, but those of us receiving that assistance or merely watching from the sidelines see the selflessness, compassion and dedication line workers put into their effort. It can be thankless work, so if I may be so bold, on behalf of the rest of the power industry, thank you, to all of the line workers, for going to such great lengths to ensure the rest of us are safe and comfortable.

If you would like to contribute an article or if you have an idea about interesting technology, solutions, or suggestions, please email me at Elisabeth@ElectricEnergyOnline.com.


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