As pleased as I am about the capture of Saddam Hussein and progress in Iraq & Afghanistan, I am frustrated that our national interests are still so inexorably tied to the Middle East. We have only ourselves to blame for our precarious dependence on foreign oil, the existence of well-funded terrorists in the Middle East, and the significant damage to our economy from an enormous energy trade imbalance. Although there is absolutely no excuse for the unconscionable actions committed by terrorists against our great nation, I believe many will often wonder whether it could have been prevented. The policies of both our government and the energy industry over the last 40 years have left us hopelessly dependent on fossil fuels, and therefore hopelessly dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Until we take responsibility for our myopic policies and change the way we power our nation, there will likely continue to be regrettable consequences. The good news is the solution is all around us.RE Insider – February 2, 2004 – I am a passionate American, and one of the most patriotic people I know. That is why it’s so disappointing to be stuck in what I like to call the Fossil Fuel Age. In America, we choose our destiny. Great choices by our forefathers have made America the best place to live on the planet. I have very few fears, and one of them is losing our competitiveness. And yet, I believe we’re at risk of losing some of that edge. Why? Because, for that one thing which matters the most to our economy, we have failed to make the right choices. What one crucial thing permeates every part of our lives? The answer is by far the largest industry in the world, with revenues six times larger than the telecommunications and computer industries combined. Without this, everything we do would grind to a halt: energy. Americans use more energy per person than any other nation on Earth. And because we’ve selected fossil fuels as our primary source, we also pollute more per capita than any other nation. We consume a lot of energy because we have artificially cheap power (subsidies, environmental costs are not reflected in energy prices, etc.) and because we enjoy the benefits (convenience & productivity). Energy is, in many ways, the lifeblood of our nation. Can you imagine living without electricity for your home or fuel for your vehicle? Many of us have had to endure blackouts or gas shortages temporarily, and we remember the inconvenience. Energy is far too important to us to risk losing our comfortable standard of living. Hence the need for us to preserve our oil interests in the most unstable region of the world using military muscle. We can all agree that due to our military prowess and our wealth, the United States will continue to have a steady supply of black gold; and you & I will be able to continue filling up our cars. If this supply were ever disrupted, the savvy politicians in Washington know their careers would be over before you can say co-dependent. Yet we send enormous amounts of our hard-earned cash (estimated at $90 Billion per year) to the Middle East for oil, enriching unstable countries. And we’ve spend hundreds of billions more on military action in the Middle East since 1990. It should come as no surprise that some of this huge supply of cash trickles down to ‘radical’ people who don’t like us. But can you blame them for not liking us? Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Imagine for a moment what it would be like growing up in America if the conditions were reversed, and America was not the world superpower that it is. Imagine growing up with a powerful military base in your neighborhood. Imagine that base is full of intimidating soldiers and powerful weapons from a country that happens to be the world’s lone remaining superpower (let’s call it United Provinces). Now imagine (this will be difficult) that your country (America) has a weak, technologically inferior military with no chance of matching the strength of the United Provinces (UP). Then imagine that your religion and core beliefs – in fact everything you know and everything you were ever taught – tells you that those nearby UP soldiers and their culture are wicked enemies of your religious leaders. Then, imagine the United Provinces going to war with one of our neighboring countries (like Canada for example) where you have friends & family, ravaging that country, killing both military and civilians, blowing up buildings and bridges. Then, you receive daily doses of heavily biased media reports exaggerating claims of brutality to civilians and omitting reports of gratitude shown by Canadian citizens and of generosity from their country’s humanitarian agencies. Do you think that some of your neighbors, who may have had a bad childhood or are angry about life in general, might decide to join a crusade to stop the perceived abuse? Would the leader of a radical resistance group appear radical to you, or merely reacting to unfair treatment? Would that leader be able to easily recruit hundreds or thousands of new followers due to the perceived ‘unfair’ war being waged by the United Provinces on your neighboring Canada? Wouldn’t this exacerbate your jealousy towards the world’s lone superpower and erode any support you may have once had? And if your country was awash in cash controlled by a few royal family members or high-ranking government officials do you think some of that cash would inevitably end up in the hands of that resistance group? Perception is the only true reality, and Americans are perceived by many in the Middle East as arrogant, selfish and devoid of character. I have no problem being ridiculed for saying this: I believe we are at least partially to blame, as Americans, for some of the terrible consequences due to our lack of vision on energy supply. Although there is no excuse for the unconscionable acts committed by lunatic terrorists on 9/11, we have, after all, poured cash into the Middle East for oil, offended their citizens with our culture and infuriated radical groups with our military activities – all because our nation’s citizens have never demanded independence from foreign energy. Wake up America, it’s time we do something about it, and only as citizens taking action collectively can we make a difference. I didn’t grow up checking the box to join the planet saving industry – I just knew I wanted to be in business for myself. Yet I now believe it is so critical for us to move from the Fossil Fuel Age to the Sustainable Age that I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to developing our vast renewable energy resources. Fortunately, I’ve learned there are enough other Americans out there who feel the same way, so together we’re building a grass roots marketing effort to create change. For America to become truly independent again, including energy independence, we must demand and create change. Is it possible for a group of like-minded individuals to overhaul the well-oiled and well-funded machine that makes up the energy industrial complex? With all the energy industry’s entrenched lobbyists, organizations and politicians who are loyal to their money, it no doubt looms as a tall order. But when the pain becomes great enough, the political system reacts. Well, the pain of our current energy policy is finally beginning to breathe life into the wheels of change. Most people today acknowledge that our environment is taking a beating from the generation of harmful emissions of our energy consumption. Even if you remove the discussion about carbon dioxide and its controversial effect on global warming, the obvious fact remains that we release millions of tons of other gases, particulates, heavy metals and other pollutants from the consumption of fossil fuels that absolutely have an impact on the air we breathe and the water we drink. Common sense tells us that higher energy prices and worsening pollution are inevitable unless we change something. Consider these facts: Roughly 70% of our electricity comes from burning coal, which produces: 2/3 of the sulfur dioxide (acid rain) emitted by the United States, 1/3 of the nitrogen oxide (smog & haze), 1/3 of the mercury (poisons fish, our food supply, lakes, rivers, etc.), 1/3 of the carbon dioxide (a leading global warming gas). Other pollutants: arsenic, lead, cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, carbon monoxide (causes headaches), volatile organic compounds (VOC, forms ozone), and trace amounts of uranium. A typical coal plant may burn nearly 100 train cars of coal every day. Even the latest ‘clean coal’ technologies – although much improved – are not capturing all the mercury and other pollutants spewing out of their stacks. Over 60 new coal plants are being proposed nationwide today. The National Petroleum Council (NPC, an official advisor to the US government for 57 years) says the volatility of natural gas prices will be a fixture for years, even if large new supplies are obtained. To increase imports of natural gas using liquefied natural gas would take an investment of roughly $100 Billion, says the NPC, and the current North American budget for gas exploration and production is $1.2 Trillion until 2025. Further, they say prices will be $7 per 1,000 cubic feet (today prices are historically very high at about $5, more than double the $2 prices we enjoyed in the 1990s). If these new sources are not developed, volatility will be much worse than it is now and cost consumers an additional $1 Trillion by 2025. Total: up to $2.2 Trillion. The true cost of creating electricity (i.e. environmental & health costs, etc.) is not yet reflected in your electric bill. Carbon taxes and emissions costs were recently added to European electric rates (www.Europa.com) and are inevitable here in the US. Even if you throw out the global warming argument (a dangerous move), many estimate the health & pollution costs of our existing energy policy at up to $3 Trillion (next 20 years). The cost of generating electricity from wind power has fallen 90% since 1980, and large wind farms can now generate electricity at less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour (equal to or below the avoided fuel cost of most utilities). That makes wind the least expensive form of new electric generation. Wind farms are very popular (i.e. not controversial) in the rural Midwest. Costs continue to decline every year, even though the growth is ‘lumpy’ and the size of the wind industry pales relative to conventional power sources. Kansas, Texas & North Dakota have enough potential wind resource to power the entire country, according to data released in 1991 by the Pacific Northwest Laboratory. New data, including a study by Stanford University and new wind resource maps, show that the potential was grossly underestimated by the 1991 study. The windiest Midwestern states could power the country 6-10 times over (assuming adequate transmission). By the end of 2003, wind power alone will reduce by 10-15% what the need for natural gas would otherwise be (wind eliminates the need for nearly 0.5 bcf/day of natural gas). Wind powers less than 1% of our country today. Wind powers nearly 10% of Germany, over 20% of Denmark today with plans to increase to 50% by 2020. The U.S. imports about 60% of our oil from overseas, at a cost of $90 Billion per year. Projections show this trend could reach 75% by 2025. Cost: $2 Trillion over 20 years. Biomass (burning wood waste, switch grass & other agricultural ‘energy crops’ and various biological waste products) can utilize existing, modified coal plants and – along with the use of hydrogen & ethanol at existing modified gas turbine power plants – can provide steady baseload power, load following services and peak shaving. The potential of biomass in the U.S. is also astounding: enough to power the country several times over. Converting the U.S. to 100% renewable power (wind, biomass, landfill gas, solar, existing hydroelectric plus hydrogen, biodeisel & ethanol to power our vehicles, etc.) by 2025 would cost roughly $1 Trillion including the construction of adequate new transmission lines, modifications to existing coal & gas-fired power plants to burn biomass and hydrogen/ethanol/biodeisel, and large-scale energy storage systems. The economic impact to the country has been estimated to exceed $3 Trillion in benefits (new jobs, tax revenue, lower trade deficit, etc.). Once the system is built, the operation & maintenance is much lower than thermal power sources, and the fuel cost for wind & solar systems is, well, pretty cheap. (Copies of our White Paper describing the costs and methods for converting to 100% renewables are available to Krystal Planet green energy customers) My recommended New Year’s Resolution for Uncle Sam is this: let’s make the choice now to convert America to 100% renewable power. The technology is available and affordable today, the potential is available and bountiful, and the savings would be enormous. If we don’t take bold and massive action, our current path will cost us $5-10 Trillion dollars by 2025. Investing today in our own country’s resources costs a mere $1 Trillion, with subsequent economic benefits triple that amount. As a ‘Green’ Republican (if there is such a thing), I get really excited about the raw economics of such a transition, in addition to the environmental & health benefits. Here’s a recommended game plan for Uncle Sam to meet his New Year’s Resolution: – RPS. Pass a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS): 10% by 2020 for starters. Great Britain just passed a much more aggressive RPS, but we need to start somewhere. – PTC. Renew the production tax credit for renewable energy projects for 5 years, and then let it expire for good. The RPS and a 5-year run on tax credits will be enough for the wind industry to survive without subsidies (the coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear industries cannot make that claim yet, even after their 50+ year run). – Green Power. Promote green power: make green premium pricing programs readily available to every American home & business. My company, Krystal Planet, offers a tax-deductible green premium program that uniquely allows residential customers to qualify for free electricity when they promote green energy to others. Choose green power, from Krystal Planet or someone else, but do your part: go green. I am proud to be an American, the greatest place to live on Earth. But every day we poison our air & water a little more, send millions to unstable countries, and damage our economy with energy trade deficits. I implore readers of this article to do something: promote renewable energy to your legislators & governor, spread the word to friends & co-workers about our renewable options, and choose green energy for your home & business. This movement is going to happen with or without the government sponsoring it. But it will happen a lot faster with a few key incentives in place as suggested in Uncle Sam’s game plan. So take a few minutes and help out. It’s time, it’s possible, and it’s going to be a heckuva lot of fun making it happen. About the author… Troy Helming is the CEO of Krystal Planet Corporation (a green power marketing firm offering tax-deductible ”Green Energy’ to homes & business worldwide, on the web at the first link below, or 913-888-0500) and is the founder of Kansas Wind Power LLC (also a the link below). He was formerly Chairman & CEO of AZtech Financial Services, Inc. a small business incubator, offering tax advice, financial, healthcare and legal services nationwide to over 4,000 small businesses, a customer base that was later sold to another company after Helming left to run Kansas Wind Power.