A Sustainable Energy Blueprint for the Next Administration

Shortly after taking office in 2001, President George Bush made the passage of national energy legislation a centerpiece of his Administration. Although he continues to call for its approval, the measure, which envisions greater domestic development of fossil fuel resources and nuclear power as well as increased use of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies, has languished in Congress ever since.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has likewise raised energy policy as an important issue in his campaign and proposed a series of measures to expand the use of renewable energy resources and to move the U.S. closer to some form of energy “independence.” While moving in the right direction, the Kerry proposals are, for the most part, rather tepid. Although they look good when compared to the Bush proposals which, in total, would largely continue U.S. reliance on traditional, polluting energy sources. Neither candidate has outlined either a detailed vision or the specifics of an energy program that would actually have a semblance of a chance to end energy imports, sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, greatly improve the energy efficiency of the economy, or significantly expand the nation’s use of renewable energy resources. Yet it is possible to achieve these goals. By 2025, it is technically and economically feasible for the United States to realize the following energy policy objectives if the political will existed to implement the necessary supporting legislation and policy directives. – Reduce energy intensity of the U.S. economy by at least 25% through energy efficiency improvements in appliances, lighting, motors, building energy management, transportation, and industrial processes – Reduce overall annual energy use by at least 10 quads so that total U.S. energy consumption is reduced from roughly 100 quads (quadrillion BTUs) in 2004 to 90 quads or less in 2025 – Double automotive fuel efficiency, including SUVs, to 50 mpg or better while holding total vehicle miles traveled at current levels – Eliminate both oil and natural gas imports – Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels at least 10 percent below 1990 levels – Phase out the nation’s nuclear power plants – Meet at least 25 percent of electricity demand with renewable energy resources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) – Meet at least 10 percent of liquid fuel demand with biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel) – Meet at least 10 percent of space heating needs with renewable energy resources (biomass, solar, geothermal) To achieve these objectives, the following initiatives should be acted upon: 1.) A federal RPS should be implemented mandating that an increasing share of electricity come from renewable energy sources with a goal of no less than 25 percent by 2025. 2.) A federal RFS should be implemented mandating that an increasing share of liquid fuels come from biofuel sources with a goal of no less than 10 percent by 2025. 3.) Car manufacturers should be mandated to achieve overall fleet (including SUVs and light trucks) fuel efficiency averages of no less than 55 mpg by 2025; manufacturers can use a mix of strategies for achieving this target including expanded use of hybrid and electric vehicles, fuel cells, advanced engine and vehicle designs, etc. 4.) No new nuclear power plant relicensings should be approved and existing safety regulations vigorously enforced with an eye towards early closure of particularly dangerous reactors. No new plants should be licensed and federal nuclear R&D funds should be focused on improved decommissioning and waste storage and disposal technologies. 5.) Current federal and state funding levels for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and implementation programs should be increased by at least 20 percent per year between now and 2025 with funds coming from a mix of sources including a phase-in carbon tax and increased royalties from federal oil and natural gas leases. Funds would be earmarked for the cross-section of building, transportation, electricity, lighting, appliance, and industrial technologies (including co-generation, district energy, and fuel cells) as well as the cross-section of renewable energy technologies including biomass/biofuels, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind as well as renewably-produced hydrogen, wave and other water-powered technologies. 6.) A cap-and-trade system for reducing CO2 emissions should be mandated with a goal of reducing total CO2 emissions to levels at least 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2025. 7.) A cap on oil imports at current levels should be imposed in 2005 and thereafter lowered annually to achieve a goal of 0 percent by 2025. 8.) A program of federal grants should be available to states and municipalities that agree to design and implement (with mandates) programs to either reduce energy use by specified levels or to meet increased renewable energy targets. Emphasis might be given to programs that focus on those energy uses typically within the purview of local and state governments such as building codes, procurement policies, land use planning and facility siting, and transportation including mass transit and bikeways. Partial funding for such a program could come from savings realized through implementation of more aggressive energy efficiency measures in federal facilities. 9.) A uniform system of national interconnection and net metering standards should be mandated to facilitate grid-connection for renewable sources of electricity production. 10.) Substantially tighter efficiency standards should be enacted for the cross-section of lighting technologies, appliances, industrial motors, and transmission systems with a goal of increasing overall efficiency by 20 percent or more over the next 20 years. 11.) A detailed national renewable resources survey should be conducted to assess the most economically recoverable wind, geothermal, solar, biomass, and hydropower resources; this should be accompanied by reform of the regulatory and/or legislative framework to enable tapping these resources in an environmentally sound manner. 12.) An extensive system of investment and production tax incentives for to encourage investments by businesses and individuals in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies should be implemented (including a broadly-based, long-term Production Tax Credit and tradable tax credits for municipal utilities) with costs off-set by carbon and pollution taxes. It seems improbable that either President Bush or Senator Kerry are presently prepared to embrace any energy strategy that resembles that outlined above although some third-party presidential candidates as well as congressional, state, and local candidates may be willing to express support. On the other hand, it is worth recalling the proverb that all truth passes through three phases: first, it is ridiculed; second it is strongly resisted; and third, it is finally accepted as being obvious. As the pressures of energy imports, climate change, and related environmental and economic problems mount, much of what is outlined above is likely to eventually gain acceptance. The only question for the current, as well as future, contenders for the White House is whether they are prepared to exercise the leadership to act now or to wait until they have no choice. About the author… Ken Bossong is the coordinator of the Sustainable Energy Coalition (SEC) – a coalition of nearly 100 national and state business, environmental, and energy policy organizations founded in 1992. The views expressed in this article are soley those of the author and do not necessary reflect the views of the SEC or its member groups.
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