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Here’s why we need a national energy policy right now

October 20, 2011

Scientists are predicting that this week will mark the milestone where the world’s population will reach 7 billion.  Are you aware that the population reached 1 billion for the very first time in the history of the world only 200 years ago?  It took millions of years for the population to multiply to 1 billion, and then in just two hundred short years we multiplied to 7 billion people.  The same scientists are predicting that the global population will reach 8 billion by 2025!

Many cities have grown to population densities bordering on the extreme

These people are not all living in some undeveloped country in grass huts with nothing but a candle.  The exploding population is buying a significant number of additional light bulbs, hair dryers, washing machines and dryers, smart phones, TVs, iPods, iPads, computers, and dishwashers.  They are buying new homes, they are erecting new office buildings and they are consuming mountains upon mountains of food every day delivered in plastic, aluminum, glass, and other materials.  All of this stuff must be produced and disposed of day after day after day.

We have to realize that it takes an enormous amount of energy to power all of our lives.  And the cost of producing the additional energy we will need for an exploding population will be staggering.  To point out one very expensive piece of the problem, the US has more than 160,000 miles of electrical transmission lines that are based on 70 year old technology.  The inefficiencies in this antiquated infrastructure account for a loss of 50% of the electricity produced in the US.

That is no exaggeration!  Can you imagine, half of the electricity that is produced in the US is lost in the lines we use to move electrons from one place to another.  This transmission system was designed long before anyone envisioned an exploding demand for energy like what we have now, and long before smart grid technologies were created that could significantly increase the efficiencies in the way power is distributed and used.  This entire system must be overhauled to meet our growing demand.  But no one can make the necessary changes under the weight of volumes of rules and regulations that have been created over the last 50 years – regulations that were specifically created to ensure the perpetuation of this antiquated infrastructure!  Overhaul of our outdated transmission system will have to begin with an overhaul of the regulatory statutes.

And the inefficiencies in our transmission infrastructure are not the only serious problem we face, and may not even be the most serious.  All of the nuclear power plants in the US are reaching the end of their design life, and no new plants are under construction to take their place.  The coal power industry continues to destroy mountains and pump pollution into the environment – nearly 500 mountains have been completely destroyed in the Appalachians in the last 50 years.  Yet, NIMBYism has brought much of the renewable energy industry to a standstill.

Deep water oil drilling must continue for some time, but we have not seen the end of accidental oil spills and we have no really clever ways to deal with accidental spills when they happen.  Furthermore, we must stop importing our energy from unfriendly nations, and stop paying subsidies to foreign governments to encourage them to produce oil for the US.  The list of serious and costly problems goes on and on and on.

The responsible approach to fix all of these problems begins with the creation of a national energy policy.  I am often asked why a “policy” is necessary to help us make the repairs necessary to fix all the problems – why can’t politicians simply do what needs to be done, with or without a policy?  The answer is simple.  Energy companies make investment decisions that affect their businesses for decades.  These investment programs last for 10 to 20 years or more.  The jobs these investments represent are real jobs that people can make a career out of and eventually retire from.

On the other hand, politicians can only make promises that are based on two or four year cycles, or until the next election.  No matter what a political candidate promises, he can easily be overruled by his successor.  These short-lived political promises create uncertainty in the industry and make it difficult for energy companies to find the necessary long term investors to fund long term projects.

A national energy policy could be written to provide the necessary guidelines for implementation of a new infrastructure; these guidelines would signal investors that future government regulations will support these efforts.  The new policy could last a decade or more and would provide confidence to decision makers in the energy companies and in the investment community.

A national energy policy is crucial to the very survival of our way of life, because what we are currently doing is extremely wasteful.  A new energy policy is the first meaningful step toward making everything work; and making everything work will create sustainable jobs.  It will take a lot of people with a lot of different skills to change everything that must be changed.  Without a national energy policy, our politicians and decision makers can only continue to kick these problems down the road.  I would like to encourage you to write or call your elected representatives and demand from them a national energy policy.  Let us collectively make this one of the key factors in this upcoming election.

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