FORUM: Energy Policy

Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

FORUM: Energy Policy


John P. Holdren's "Searching for a National Energy Policy" (Issues, Spring 2001) is the sort of sound assessment of national energy options that should be reviewed and digested by federal officials as they work to resolve the current energy crisis and plan to move us to a more balanced strategy for future energy use. Holdren provides a clear argument that the basis of a sound energy policy lies in encouraging supply diversity through R&D and the opening of energy markets to non-fossil fuel alternatives. He also adds his voice to the chorus of economic, technical, and environmental experts who have argued that a national energy policy based on exploring for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) will, in fact, do nothing to meet our national energy needs. The ANWR gambit is, more accurately, no more than a plan to enrich a set of oil and gas industry executives at the expense of improving the energy security of the country as a whole.

Instead of seriously considering the facts and the analysis that Holdren and other energy experts are reporting, it unfortunately appears that the Bush-Cheney administration is not listening and is instead involved in an energy version of "voodoo economics." Since taking office, the administration has undermined a number of sound pieces of existing energy policy, including federal support for energy efficiency and demand-side management. Wind energy systems that are now directly cost-competitive with many currently installed fossil fuel technologies, as well as a range of renewable energy options such as biomass and solar that can be moved to full economic competition through the consistent application of research, development, and dissemination policies, have been ignored or discouraged.

The federal task force convened to develop a national energy plan could have been an opportunity to take a balanced look at the full range of energy technologies and the role that policies can have in expanding our energy options. Instead, much of the work of the task force has been directed at meeting with only a narrow range of energy experts, largely from companies with preexisting ties to the administration.

It is particularly sad and ironic that now that the combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy can finally play a major role in meeting our energy needs, they are not being afforded the opportunity to compete on a level economic basis with the fossil fuel industry.

Should the administration want to explore the full range of technical and economic opportunities that now exist to diversify the U.S. energy supply, a number of important first steps could be taken. I detailed these in a letter sent to Vice President Cheney (available at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/[sim]rael/papers.html). Steady federal R&D funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies has produced a series of important innovations. The budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy should be increased significantly and then sustained. Second, tax credits for companies developing and using renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies would encourage innovation through a market mechanism. Third, the government could institute improved efficiency standards for residential and commercial buildings, including the use of real-time pricing for electricity. Fourth, the government should implement an aggressive federal renewable portfolio standard to help build cost-competitive renewable ene rgy markets. Fifth, energy efficiency in the vehicle fleet could be dramatically improved--again through market mechanisms--if federal standards for vehicle efficiency were raised. By taking these steps, the United States has an opportunity to provide critically needed global environmental leadership. The economic benefits that come with this level of leadership and innovation would undoubtedly far outweigh the costs.

DANIEL M. KAMMEN

Director, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory

University of California, Berkeley

dkammen@socrates. …

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