Lights Out: Ten Myths about (and Real Solutions to) America's Energy Crisis

Article excerpt

LIGHTS OUT: TEN MYTHS ABOUT (AND REAL SOLUTIONS TO) AMERICA'S ENERGY CRISIS by Spencer Abraham (with William Tucker), St. Martin's Press 2010

Reviewed by Jay Matson

Former United States Senator and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham is following the same path that so many other politicians before him have chosen after leaving office - writing a book. Unlike many others, however, Lights Out is not a gossipy tell-all or a behind-the-scenes look at the political machinery of Washington (though he does offer anecdotes to lend some credence to his points). Rather, Secretary Abraham takes on the daunting task of developing a plausible energy policy designed to reduce greenhouse gases and reliance on foreign energy supplies, while making sure the lights do not go out. His case may not be as compelling as it could be. Perhaps it is impossible to present a compelling case for any solution. It is nonetheless a good starting point for a discussion that needs to occur if the United States is going to pursue a rational and deliberate energy policy before a crisis forces difficult choices.

In very readable prose, but a somewhat disorganized approach, Secretary Abraham makes the case that the United States should aim for a fuel mix by 2030 that includes 30% nuclear, 25% natural gas, 20% renewables (including hydro), 10% efficiency gains, and 5% clean coal (presumably, the remaining 10% will be traditional "dirty" coal.) This proposal differs from relatively recent studies done by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and McKinsey & Company (McKinsey) in certain respects.1 For example, Secretary Abraham would encourage more nuclear development, as compared to the EPRI (28%) and McKinsey (24%) studies,2 and he would rely less on renewables (EPRI forecasts 21%, McKinsey 23%).3 Overall, however, his proposal generally trends in the same direction.4

Secretary Abraham's proposal is presented in four subparts. In Part 1, "Energy Myths and Facts," Secretary Abraham briefly describes the ten myths that were offered as the teaser in the book's subtitle. These myths run the gamut from the obvious ("Global Warming is a Complete Hoax") to the more sophisticated ("We Are Entering an Age of Natural Gas . . . and It Will Largely Solve Our Energy Problems"). In attacking these myths, Secretary Abraham removes many of the roadblocks that can undermine the development of a sound, comprehensive energy policy, and thereby sets the stage for a more productive discussion in the rest of the book.

In Part 2, "Threats to Our Energy And Environmental Security," Secretary Abraham describes the problems confronting the United States in the energy sector, including the inability of supply to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for more electricity, geopolitical instability, and the impact of power production on the environment. For a reader that does not already think there is an increasingly critical need to develop a rational, practical, comprehensive energy policy in this country, that point is driven home here.

In Part 3, "Why We Have Failed to Address Our Energy Security Threats," Secretary Abraham takes the political process to task. As he correctly observes, "mistakes have been made on all sides," including the Bush Administration (in which Secretary Abraham served), Congress, the media, environmental activists, and the general public. Past mistakes are identified, presumably, so they can be avoided in the future, and to ensure that a new workable energy policy is not dead on arrival. However, it is not entirely clear that any solution will be available to traverse the minefield of politics, schizophrenic infatuation with unproven quick fixes, and rampant NIMBY-ism. …