Charles Darwin and Energy Policy

08/20/2008 | By Lew Tagliaferre

Well, I suppose you’ve heard all the news: Oil companies are enjoying record profits and GM is losing money fast, while Congress adjourned without passing a comprehensive energy plan. Maybe that’s because one does not exist yet – in spite of several high-profile proposals that are being scattered about. Energy is a very complex issue that won’t likely respond to my simplified opinion. And, we must realize that, unless you want the federal government to run all energy companies, no national plan is going to fit all producers equally. Nevertheless, I offer a composite plan gleaned from several experts for your enjoyment and discussion. It may be from a brain seared by the summer heat wave, so take it for what it’s worth.

First, everyone should recognize that all fossil fuels are limited by the total supplies of Earth and, therefore, should be maximized for their most effective use. Second, we must recognize that burning fossil fuels has an environmental-impact cost that should be factored into its price. It begins with a patriotic incentive program to replace all energy-generating and energy-consuming products with the most efficient devices that are economically sustainable, including appliances, buildings, and autos. In addition, a massive coordinated research and development program should be funded and conducted by all cooperating nations to create a hydrogen-based energy world, possibly through the United Nations, with the goal of escaping the demise of fossil fuels during this century. Since coal is our most abundant resource, it should be allocated primarily for generation of electricity in the cleanest form possible, consistent with economic cost (including land reclamation). U.S. exports of coal should be prohibited, except possibly to friendly trading partners with a balanced trade account and clean-burning standards equal to ours. The cost of all other forms of electricity should be pegged to the national average cost of coal with tax incentives to producers that level its economic advantage. Nuclear power should be our second main source of electricity, with emphasis on safety and waste management that would include domestic enrichment and recycling.

All renewable methods for generating electricity, hydro, solar, wind, and biomass should be encouraged and promoted through research, development, and incentives. The national electrical grid will soon be a common carrier of power among all utility companies; therefore, it must be granted top priority for national security, reliability, and domestic trade. It might even be nationalized (like the federal highway system) to remove it from the corporate mire that now plagues its reliability, and restructuring until it can be replaced by a better alternative as described below.

Natural gas should be removed from power generation and reserved for space heating and certain manufacturing applications, except for distributed combined heat and power plants (also explained below). A senator from Maine reported that 80 percent of the homes in her state are heated by oil. That would have to change in this plan. Our national economy is driven by oil used in transportation. Oil production is controlled by the OPEC cartel on international markets, which threatens our national security. About 85 percent of the world’s known oil reserves are used up, and most of them are under Arab Muslim nations in the Middle East. The remainder will be harder and harder to get; therefore, oil should be reduced for personal transportation and only expanded in the form of diesel fuel and jet fuel for commercial use. Because our domestic oil reserves are small and declining, attempts to increase domestic oil production will produce diminishing returns, but it can remain a short-term hedge against catastrophic prices. Dependence upon gasoline-powered, personal-auto engines should be phased out and replaced with natural gas and clean-burning diesel fuels and bio-fuels not made from corn (except for clean-gas-burning, two-wheeled individual vehicles, because I ride a maxi-scooter). One energy expert, Anne Korin at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security, estimates that a plug-in hybrid personal auto running on 80-percent alcohol and 20-percent gasoline would get up to 500 miles per gallon of gas. Public-transportation vehicles should all be converted to natural-gas or clean-diesel engines.

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