Time to Get Serious about Energy

On Wednesday, April 27, 2005 President Bush gave a major energy policy speech in which he called for additional oil and gas exploration in the United States, drilling for oil in Alaska’s ANWAR refuge, and the construction of many new power plants, including nuclear plants.  The problem is that he made virtually the same speech on May 17, 2001, the day after the National Energy Policy Development Group presented President him with a National Energy Policy Report.  The 2001 report had 105 recommendations, including those mentioned above.

So what happened between 2001 and 2005?  Nothing.  The “talk” has to stop.  The Indian and Chinese economies are at critical growth stages.  This will result in a permanent and increasing demand for oil, which will put upward pressure on energy prices for at least the next 50 years.  Only vast increases in the supply of energy will solve the problem, and only the private sector can solve this crisis.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, energy isn’t a free good.  It must be produced.  Oil must be pumped out of the ground or sea.  It must be refined and delivered to consumers.  Coal must be mined.  Electricity must be generated from coal, gas, oil, or nuclear sources.  Producing energy is work.  It is a legitimate and necessary business.  For the last thirty years the government has been guilty of both obstruction and inaction where energy production is concerned.

Conservation

Before discussing what the government should do to increase energy production, let’s talk about conservation.  Conservation is a legitimate part of the energy crisis puzzle.  If we have more fuel-efficient cars, planes, and busses, this slows the increase in the demand for energy, which both conserves energy and mitigates the growth rate of energy prices.  However, conservation is a “bit actor” in the total energy picture.  At best, conservation can only reduce the growth of US demand for energy.  No matter how many conservation measures are taken, energy prices will still rise.

Nevertheless, the Federal Government should, in my opinion, set challenging minimum gas mileage standards for automobiles sold in the United States.  It should also provide research and development funds to assist auto companies in producing more fuel-efficient cars, including hybrid cars, electric cars, and hydrogen-powered cars.  The auto companies have had a free pass on mileage requirements for too long.

Increased Energy Production

Enormous increases in energy production are the only solution to present and future energy problems.  I suggest a three-fold approach to solving the energy problem.

First, we need to “go Nuclear” in a big way.  Many more nuclear plants need to be constructed for electricity generation.  Nuclear power is safe, extremely efficient, and virtually pollution free.  We haven’t built a nuclear plant in over 30 years and this is nonsense!  A large increase in nuclear powered electric facilities could supply electricity for huge numbers of electric cars.  Instead of using coal and oil to generate electricity, our nuclear plants could be the main source of power for short-distance cars and the heating and air-conditioning of nearly all US homes and businesses.

The Federal Government needs to take the initiative and streamline the hurdles and licensing process for utilities that want to build safe, efficient nuclear energy plants.  The Feds also need to implement the safest plan technologically feasible to store and transport nuclear waste.  Once the plan is devised it needs to be implemented over the howls of well-meaning environmentalists.  Nuclear technology is safe and advanced.  Construction of additional nuclear facilities is a political problem, not a technological problem.

Second, we need to develop and drill for oil in all feasible locations within the United States.  Even after the nuclear initiative is complete, a large amount of oil will be needed for commercial trucking, agriculture, and aircraft transportation.  It behooves us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil for economic and geo-political reasons.

Third, mass transportation projects in major cities should be expanded and created.  Except in major US cities (over 8,000,000 in population) subways and trains simply don’t encompass enough of the geographic area of the city to be useful to the public.  Cities the size of Minneapolis, San Diego, Detroit, and Kansas City should have at least one east-west route and one north-south route for commuter trains.  Efficient busses can transport people from the commuter train stations to their residences.  It makes sense, and to modify the phrase of a popular movie, “if we build it, they will come!”

To conclude, the construction of many new nuclear electric generation plants is the essential element of any energy plan.  With these plants, even if no promising energy-saving technologies are discovered, we can substantially reduce our dependence of fossil fuels.  Without them we must hope for some new technological breakthrough, such as cars that run on water.  I don’t think we can afford to “hope” any longer, either for technological breakthroughs or for the rest of the world’s oil producers to increase their production.  It is time for the Federal Government to pass the legislation necessary to release the creativity and productivity of the energy sector.  It is also time for the citizens of this great country to pull their heads out of the sand and to finally realize how important energy production is to our jobs, families, businesses, and way of life.

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