National Energy Policy? Got One Handy?
There has been a lot of talk (because it's an election year, and that's what politicians do) about a national energy policy. I hate to report this, but there has never been a coherent energy policy at any time in the history of the country.
We may have had an occasional oil policy, a natural gas policy, a coal policy, a nuclear energy policy, a hydroelectric policy, a solar power policy, a wind power policy, a "renewable" energy policy, and, for all I know, a fairy dust policy. But we have never had a coherent, integrated energy policy.
Obama's "green" energy policy is based solely on the desire to reduce coal, oil and gasoline consumption, which his administration claims will reduce hydrocarbon emissions into the atmosphere and ultimately reduce global warming.
OK, that's the chain of logic underlying Obama's green economy initiatives. Those initiatives include approximately half a billion dollars of taxpayer money used to prop up Solyndra; the money spent to subsidize Ener1, the government takeover of General Motors, which led to the design and manufacture of the Chevy Volt; the multiple billions for Obama's high-speed rail boondoggles; and the crippling of our energy production and the killing of the Keystone XL pipeline, among others idiocies.
So where's the warming? Apparently there isn't any to speak of, really, and according the British Meteorological Office, there is a possibility that the globe will grow increasingly cooler. Not quite to the level of an ice age, but pretty cool. So, now, where is the logic to kill oil and gas production? Are we supposed to heat our houses with those twisty CFL light bulbs, or allow the government and its "smart power grid" to maintain our homes at oh, say, 49ºF?
The real reason behind Obama's green economy fantasies is the deep-seated need of Liberal-Progressive-Democrats to control every aspect of our lives. It's not enough for them to recommend, suggest, educate, persuade, or sell you on an idea. No, these L-P-Ds want total control over us since, left to our own devices and due to the chance that we might make an independent decision that differs from their own, they regret the necessity of coercing us into what they, and apparently they alone, know is the right choice.
A lot of this can be seen in the drive for high-speed rail service. Now, I will be the first to admit that rail travel, in terms of commuting to work, is great. Like most things associated with the L-P-Ds and the government, commuter rail is heavily subsidized, so those who use the trains to get to the office are saving a lot on gas, maintenance of their vehicles, tolls on bridges, and so on. Of course, if you work in a large factory -- say like an auto plant -- that particular option is not usually available unless the commuter rail planners accidentally, and serendipitously, put a station within walking distance of the plant.
If, on the other hand, you commute by commuter rail into Manhattan from Connecticut, you benefit from everyone else's taxes to subsidize your ride. But the government controls where and when you can travel. Key word there: control.
The total demand for energy is not going to go down just because the president thinks that would be just a swell idea. How the total demand for energy will be satisfied is the real question. For example, electric cars still need energy. They are fashionable among L-P-Ds right now because they don't use much of that evil oil. Well, hooray for them. But what are they using to produce the electricity that they are using? How many equivalent miles per BTU (for example) are they getting on that energy that is produced by oil, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, or nuclear plants? Can solar panels located on the roof of green-loving L-P-Ds' homes generate enough energy to recharge their electric cars? Are their roofs even big enough for all the solar panels that they would need? How many windmills would it take in their backyards to recharge the batteries, if it's possible at all? Would they even be able to get a zoning variance to build a few?
We need to develop a universal measure of energy generation that will allow us to translate barrels of oil; cubic feet of natural gas; and megawatts of electricity generated via hydroelectric dams, nuclear power-generating facilities, windmills, or solar cells into a uniform exchange rate that will allow rational debate about the costs per uniform unit of energy. And I mean a rational debate among us, not just among faculty lounge lizards or Washington bureaucrats. We, not they, will be the ones paying for a national energy policy, both in terms of direct tax dollars and that pain in the wallet every time we fill the gas tank, or have oil delivered so we can keep our kids warm in December.
In a way, it might be admirable to make a fully informed decision that the inconvenience and expense of developing a personal wind farm or solar cell array is worth the cost and effort, because you'd know that you've avoided using a hydrocarbon product. It might be admirable so long as that decision affects only you personally.
But how does that decision scale up to encompass the total energy demand for a nation of 350 million people? Can that decision even be scaled up? Energy will still be needed for your two-passenger electric vehicle with a total cargo capacity that's only equal to three bags of groceries. Energy will still be needed to power your iPhone, iPad, desktop PC, the heat in your home, the lights in your workplace, or the fuel for aircraft used for national defense. The nation needs energy in vast quantities, and that need can be satisfied only by utilizing every possible means of energy-generation available. Mr. Obama's fantasy of "green" energy responding to the national demand for more and more energy is exactly that -- a fantasy.
But before we can discuss the costs and benefits of any proposed national energy policy, we need to develop a language that facilitates that dialogue. Look at the trouble we're having talking about our national debt. The major stumbling block, in my mind, is that the language is more suited to discussing astrophysics. How many of us can deal emotionally with the number "one trillion"? I mean one trillion of anything?
Yet we have to deal with concepts involving trillions of cubic feet of natural gas; millions of tons of coal; billions of barrels of oil; and some unknown measure of nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and wind energy. Even if we should leave the "in-the-weeds" pros and cons of that debate to scientists and bureaucrats, we ultimately are the ones who must decide which side in the argument will be hired on Election Day to carry any plan out in practice. If they aren't using language that we can all understand, what kind of a chance do we have to make a rational, informed, and practical decision on whom we will vote for and what plan he or she will implement?
Of course, how many politicians actually want an informed electorate?
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for manufacturing firms, a Vietnam veteran, and an independent voter. Jim blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com, or he can be contacted directly at email@example.com.