Energy’s Unyielding Numbers

I’m a positivist – which basically says my science is confined to numbers.  Since I’m also a stats guy, it means my numbers aren’t always precise – the world is usually plus or minus.  That’s OK.  Then there is the problem of units of measurement.  They need to be consistent.

So here’s a local set of numbers – Eureka is about 50 miles of deadhead run from highway 2.   A gallon of gas provides enough energy to move a ton of material about 50 miles by truck, or about 200 miles by rail.  Folks fortunate enough to use barges and water can move that same ton about 500 miles – but Koocanusa just isn’t set up for commercial traffic.  A century ago Fortine Creek was commercial navigation – logs moved downstream to the mill in Eureka – but we don’t have commercial waterways like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, Ohio, lower Missouri, etc.

Basically the economics of energy mean that our retail prices have to be higher than Kalispell.  As fuel prices increase, that 50 miles of deadhead run costs twice – once to get the munchies to the grocery store in Eureka, and once to get the empty truck back.  That same economics of energy isolates us further from the county seat in Libby – 37 is a deadhead route either way, while Libby and Troy are on Highway 2.

At Trego, I’m 50 miles from Walmart.  Eureka is 30% further.  Stryker is 10% closer in terms of energy.  The equations don’t change.  They affect our shopping patterns.  They affect our ability to market local products.  This chart  shows the energy equivalents in terms of gallons of gas:

Gasoline Gallon Equivalents

I’d make a wild guess that it takes somewhere around 100 gallons of gasoline equivalent to run a logging operation for a day.  The cost of fuel for a truck was a management decision when that log truck could run to American Timber (Olney), Ksanka (Fortine) or Owens & Hurst (Eureka).  With fewer mills, more distant, energy costs reduce the value of our main product.  Increased energy costs effectively reduce the value of labor as they increase the cost of living.

Electric vehicles for transportation?  We’ll know when the cost of fuel has begun to match the cost of electric vehicles when we see Lincoln Electric linemen driving electric trucks.  As long as our electric co-op finds it cost-effective to use gasoline and diesel, they operate as an indicator – heck, they buy fossil fuels at retail or close to it, and buy electricity wholesale.  The numbers may not be precise when I type at my kitchen table – but they are good enough for the calculations I need.

The cost of housing increased dramatically with inmigration – unlike our boomtown days with the highway and railroad relocation and the tunnel, private investment isn’t moving in to supply more housing quickly.  I see what may be the beginning of a trend – long-time residents selling and moving away.  I’ve looked at what happens when an area moves into the recreation dependent and retirement destination classifications.  The first noticeable step is long-time locals moving into jobs that serve the new landowners in new houses – the folks who are replacing them.