...if there was a consensus on anything at the hearing, in which testimony was heard on prospects for nuclear, solar, geothermal and wind power, along with biofuels, it was that federal and state governments get by far the most bang for their buck by setting, enforcing and encouraging increased energy efficiency. Changing building codes and requiring ever more efficient performance from new machinery is cheap. As one panelist, energy consultant David Nemtzow, observed, if you treated the energy savings from efficiency as an energy source, you would see that "energy efficiency is the number one energy resource in this country, number one ahead of oil, ahead of gas or coal or nuclear or any of the others."
A second clear imperative to emerge from the hearing was that attacking the nation's energy problems through a myriad of targeted incentives and state and federal programs was likely to be confusing and wasteful. Finding ways to encourage homeowners to install solar powered water heaters, or shifting the U.S. Postal Service fleet to plug-in hybrids is all very well and good, but the best strategy government could take to address both energy security needs and the challenge of climate change would be to impose some kind of carbon tax, perhaps along the lines of California's recently enacted Low Carbon Fuel Initiative. Only when the external costs of climate change and fossil fuel dependency become shared by individuals filling up their gas tanks and utility companies building coal-fired power plants will there be a real market incentive to deploy new technologies.
The article addresses a number of issues dealt with in the hearing, including switchgrass production, US energy demands, and a hint of news to come about peak oil.
IREJN is Connecticut's Interfaith Power and Light. Visit us at www.irejn.org.