Wednesday, December 10, 2008

6 Principles of a Coherent Energy Policy

Excellent piece in Scientific American this morning by Shirley Ann Jackson, vice chair of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, and co-chair of its Energy Security, Innovation and Sustainability Initiative. Her (too brief) article outlines some great principles and suggests some specific elements of an action plan on energy for consideration by the Obama team in the first 100 days.

The U.S. can no longer afford merely to tinker with alternative energy or to focus on a single energy source. We certainly cannot drill our way out of this problem. A comprehensive energy plan would adhere to six principles: ensure redundancy of supply and diversity of source; support well-functioning energy markets; invest in sound infrastructure for energy generation, transmission and distribution; provide for environmental sustainability and energy conservation based on full life-cycle costs; offer consistent regulation and transparent price signals; and link each energy source to its optimal sector of use.
Bravo. Replace "tinkering" with policy. Recognize that "drill, baby, drill" is not a solution. Address both supply and demand of energy in equal measure. End the privatization of profit and the socialization of costs and losses. So much of this has been anathema to the free-booting carpetbaggers of the Bush years, and their wilful obstruction has helped spawn the current crisis and has elevated the costs and risks enormously. It's past time for taking realistic, long-term approaches to our environmental, financial and energy future. Yes we will.

Some of the specific suggestions Jackson add include:

  • An executive order mandating that the federal government purchase products and services that meet the highest energy-efficiency standards.
  • Establish a $200-billion “clean energy” bank, modeled on the U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
  • Triple the federal investment in basic and applied energy research and development.
  • Create public-­private partnerships, finance start-up companies and support existing small and medium-size clean energy businesses.
  • End inequitable subsidies between different energy sources, equalizing competition.
  • Establish a consistent federal investment framework for all energy options and require a full life-cycle analysis.
  • Create a the smart grid, enabling significant expansion of alternative energy supplies.

These are all good ideas and fit with the kinds of plans Obama has been mentioning on the campaign trail. The price tag will be large, but compared to the $335B dispensed (so far) under the Splurge, relatively affordable. The overriding need, of course, is to have a balanced energy policy, rather than an ad hoc grab-bag of handouts to friends and favored industries. Despite the significant cost at least we will be buying something of value. The public has given a mandate for bold action, and obstructionists will only cement their own marginalization.

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