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Week of 4 May 2020: When energy is precious

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In July of 2018, I received a letter from a gentleman who lives in a Mennonite community in southern Ohio. He had been reading my opinion column in a small southern Ohio town's newspaper for several years. He, and the leaders of the community, liked my viewpoints. They invited me to visit them. We corresponded a bit and I arranged to come see his family and the community in October of that year. I got off the bus (the method of travel he recommended) at another small southern Ohio town and he was there to meet me with a buggy. It took us a couple of hours to make the ten-mile trip from the bus stop to his farm. Our method of propulsion for this buggy journey was, I kid you not, "Rocket"--a small middle-aged black gelding, about thirteen hands high.

At the gas station which serves as the bus stop, the gentleman had bought a couple of gallons of kerosene--the revolutionary fuel of the mid-1800's. This is the fuel that made John D. Rockefeller's fortune (Mr. Rockefeller's fortune was secure long before the widespread use of gasoline). Rockefeller's kerosene disrupted the energy business of the day, displacing whale oil with kerosene as a source of light. My host and his colleagues in the community still use it in their kerosene lamps and it is the only fuel they buy.

Their homes are heated with wood, harvested on their own farms (just as was done on my family's farms when I was a boy). Their old farmhouse has been insulated and the windows replaced with modern, tight double pane sashes. The entire house is heated with a gigantic wood cooking stove in the kitchen. It is part of their philosophy to only use this one stove. With one central source of heat, the family does not practice social distancing, in fact, the stove draws them together in cooler times so they can talk and learn from each other. Distributed heating systems are not welcome in their community.

This particular family runs a dairy (and, of course, they milk by hand, no electricity). They hire a delivery company, with honest to goodness modern delivery trucks, to deliver their all-natural grass-fed Jersey milk and other dairy products (as well as honey, maple syrup, home canned tomatoes and more) to the big city about 60 miles away. It is a thriving business. There is a high demand for these organic products.

Of course, the milk must be cooled and kept cool until it arrives at the customer. For this purpose, they have a large icehouse, about a twelve-foot cube (on the inside) which has walls made of 24-inch-thick Styrofoam. The source of cooling is ice which they harvest off their ponds in January. A one week freeze below 20F will make enough ice to last them a year.

Being self sufficient in energy needs (except for the previously mentioned offsite transportation which they contract), they have no need to monitor radio, television or the internet to project their future energy cost trends. Which is just as well, since they do not have radio, television or the internet. I had my iPhone with me, but they had asked me to turn it off and put it in my suitcase before I got off the bus. I complied, so, indeed, we had no way nor reason to hear from the outside world during my visit.

I made a couple of other short visits to these fine folks last year and then had an extended weekend with them again last fall. I can report that no time during any of these visits has there been any inquiry or discussion of the prices of coal, oil or natural gas.

Thus, my columns this month in this space will be worthless to them, for it is energy trends month here at Paperitalo Publications. We'll delve into this subject further in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I suggest you read Helen Roush's column just down the page from mine. Helen, our fine executive vice president/partner, will introduce you to the topic which those of us who must buy energy in vast quantities concern ourselves.

Every time energy comes up here, we mention safety around our pulp and paper mill energy sources and uses. Powerful energy is one of the largest areas of safety concern we have.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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