Letter to Congress: We Need a Real Energy Plan

March 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm
Contributed by: Chris

By special request, my column for Green Chip Stocks last week was a letter to Congress on behalf of the American people, asking for a real energy plan.

Letter to Congress: We Need a Real Energy Plan

How To Rebuild America for Energy Sustainability

By Chris Nelder
Friday, March 12th, 2010

Dear Congress,

We, the American People, want a New Deal for energy.

We’re tired of watching the rest of the world kick the clean energy industry into high gear while we’re still stuck in neutral, debating a weak cap-and-trade bill that doesn’t come close to meeting our energy challenge.

Indeed, we believe the focus on climate change is fundamentally misguided. We should be thinking about what we put into the engine, not what comes out of the tailpipe. If we get energy transition right, the emissions problem will take care of itself. Incentivize, don’t penalize.

The “shovel ready” stimpak was nice, but we know that most of those jobs won’t be permanent. We also know that far more of it went to the dead end of roads and cars than to real, long-term fixes to our energy crisis.

Consider rail, the most viable solution to our oil-guzzling problem. You spent decades starving Amtrak of the funding that would make it truly viable, then doled out a paltry $13 billion stimulus for high-speed rail in America. That’s about 2% of what you need to spend on it. Meanwhile, China is spending $556 billion on a rail construction plan that will link nearly all its provincial cities in the next five years. The Shanghai-Beijing link alone is expected to create half a million jobs.

The desire for instant jobs gratification has actually done rail more harm than good. Directing the understaffed Federal Railroad Administration to sort through hundreds of plans and distribute a huge chunk of stimulus money as quickly as possible, before it had a chance to develop its national high-speed rail plan, bogged the agency down and misdirected its priorities, effectively setting back real progress.

Short-term thinking is what got us into this mess, and it’s not going to get us out.

We’re all for unleashing the can-do spirit and manufacturing might of America. We’re ready to do our part. But we’re going to need more than short term support. It’s going to take more than a one-year program to restore jobs that we spent three decades sending offshore.

The incentives that Congress has created for renewables and efficiency have always had the fatal flaw of being too short-lived. The resulting boom-and-bust cycles were devastating, and caused America to lose the edge in clean tech. Meanwhile, countries that made 20-year commitments to transforming their energy systems have become the world’s leaders in it.

It’s also time to tell us the truth about the future of energy. We understand now that we have a real problem which no amount of drilling or military intervention is going to cure. In return we promise that this time, we won’t crucify you–like we did President Carter.

The Challenge

Here is our reality:

  • Oil production has peaked. Supply will be flattish for the next 2-4 years, then begin a long decline.
  • We will lose roughly 25% of our oil supply in 25 years; 50% in 50 years; 100% in 100 years.
  • To compensate for the decline of oil with renewables, the world would need to build the equivalent of all the world’s existing renewable energy capacity, every year.
  • Since that is impossible, efficiency and a long transition to renewably powered infrastructure must make up the shortfall. This will take 50 years or more to achieve.
  • It’s likely that we will also see the peaks of natural gas and coal in the next 20 years. Hydropower and nuclear will do little more than hold their current market share.
  • By the end of the century, nearly everything will have to be powered by renewably-generated electricity, not liquids or gases.

The cap-and-trade bill’s aim to cut 600,000 barrels per day off U.S. oil demand–which is currently 19 million barrels per day (mbpd)–over a period of 10 years is a joke. That’s roughly the same amount that U.S. demand has grown over the last year.

We need to cut closer to 2 mbpd in 10 years, 6 mbpd in 20 years, 8 mbpd in 30 years and 10 mbpd in 40 years.

Do you have what it takes to confront this challenge, knowing that some of the solutions will be politically unpopular, impact your constituents back home, and take many times longer than your term in office to achieve?

Can you do what authoritarian and parliamentary governments elsewhere are already doing?

A Plan to Rebuild America

It’s time to come up with a real plan, an honest plan, to rebuild America under a new energy paradigm. One with serious, achievable 30-year and 50-year milestones that will slash our need for fossil fuels.

A plan based on facts and science, not political expediency. One that will create true, long-term wealth, prosperity, resiliency and self-sufficiency.

We need a Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security to prepare the country for the decline of oil, not sweet lies from the EIA which completely ignore it. As Lester Brown observed, “only Sweden and Iceland actually have anything that remotely resembles a plan to effectively cope with a shrinking supply of oil.”

We want to stop spending half a trillion dollars a year for imported oil, and develop a defense strategy for the day when our imports dry up.

We need stable, simple feed-in tariffs, which have been proven successes in Germany, Japan and Spain…not complex, corruptible, ineffectual policies like cap-and-trade or cap-and-tax. And we need them for 30 years, not one.

We want solar on every rooftop, a wind turbine in every field and a micro-hydro turbine in every running stream, wherever viable resources exist. Distributed generation is resilient, and brings value to every community. Along with it , we need distributed power storage, and a smart grid with micro-islanding so we can fall back on our own resources if the grid goes down.

We want a plan to manage our resources for the long term health of our society, like Norway and Saudi Arabia have. Instead of planning to use our remaining oil and gas so we can drive in inefficient cars more cheaply, we should be planning to convert it into the renewables and efficiency gains we’ll need in the future.

We want a defensive strategy for our grid with hardening against cyber-attacks.

We need to reverse the long process of globalization and bring manufacturing back home. Instead of a society now dependent on complex, world-spanning, highly optimized supply chains, we need local resiliency, redundancy, and diversity in all the essential sectors: energy, water, food, and security.

Finally, we need energy education at all levels–from the street to the universities, from business to government employees.

Do you have the guts to tell the truth about our energy challenge, and bring America up to speed on what she must do? Or will you wimp out and kick the can down the road a little farther, as your predecessors have, leaving America to learn about it the hard way and pay a price so much higher than it would be today?

Time to Act – Wisely

The days of economic growth may be gone forever for import-dependent developed countries like the United States, unless we downsize, relocalize, and work hard on energy transition.

What we need now is an honest, long-range strategy. We need to build rail, rip up roads and unwanted, unsustainable housing, replant farmland, massively beef up the electrical grid, and deploy millions of renewable energy generators–the more distributed, the better.

By planning for it now, we could achieve a somewhat orderly transition away from liquid fuels and toward efficient electric transport. We’ll still create millions of new jobs, only they’ll be the right jobs. Jobs that won’t disappear the next time oil spikes.

Congress cannot meet this challenge without teamwork and good sportsmanship. The Greens, the Browns, the Department of Energy, Congress and all of us must work together. It will take sacrifice on all sides.

We sincerely hope you are up to the challenge.

Until next time,

Chris

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