May 5, 2012
Editorials, Florida

Postal Service struggles; senator tilts at windmills

The Daytona Beach News-Journal, 5 May 2012

Powered in the past by horses, cars, trucks, airplanes and the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Postal Service is facing its toughest challenge yet.

The challenge comes from the Internet. Because of that competition, business is down 25 percent since 2006, and the Postal Service has lost $25 billion in five years. That’s hard to fathom, as the Postal Service brings in about $66 billion a year and would rank easily in the Fortune 50.

Add in the impact of the Great Recession – and the drop in junk mail and credit-card queries – and the outlook gets worse for the postal system.

Now comes a bold proposal to lift the Postal Service well into the 21st century and beyond: Power postal vehicles with wind.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said he imagines a Postal Service with a fleet that is powered by electricity generated by Atlantic Ocean winds.

“That’s an idea that is sort of out there,” said Carper in a recent Senate debate over postal reforms.

To say the least. Way out there, way past the Atlantic.

Carper’s idea may come from the fact that East Coast leaders from New York to Massachusetts are eyeing wind farms on the ocean. There is a lot of wind over the seas and that wind can move turbines.

The trouble is, as Carper pointed out in his Senate speech, much of the proposed power has to be stored. Wind doesn’t always blow when we would like it to.

Carper envisions a new fleet of Postal Service vehicles powered by batteries that would be plugged in to the grid when not operating.

Carper is right that the Postal Service has a large fleet of vehicles. At 214,000 units, it is the largest civilian fleet in the world, according to the Postal Service website.

And it already has alternative-energy vehicles. What it doesn’t have is a lot of money to replace its old vehicles.

Last May, the Washington Post reported the Postal Service didn’t readily have the $6 billion needed to replace its vehicles.

But federal officials delay tough decisions such as closing post offices and cutting daily service, and instead talk about futuristic Postal Service vehicles powered by the breaths of Neptune and Zeus.

Carper’s suggestion is especially ill-timed, coming after several high-profile bankruptcies of alternative-energy companies that received millions in taxpayer-funded financing.

Perhaps federal officials such as Sen. Carper should wait until the technology is feasible and profitable (and cheap) before retiring the gas vehicles in favor of battery-powered trucks. And they should look closely at the Postal Service – its finances and procedures – for efficiency gains and financial savings.

The Atlantic winds can wait. They aren’t going anywhere.

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