By Jon R. Luoma
N.Y. Times News Service
OLD SNOWMASS, Colo. _ From the vantage point of what he calls
"the jungle" in his house in the Rocky Mountains, the future of
energy conservation has never looked brighter to Amory Lovins.
Lovins, a physicist trained at Harvard and Oxford, first burst
onto the national energy-policy scene with a 1976 article in
foreign affairs in which he proposed an energy future for the
United States based on a "soft path" of energy efficiency, solar
and wind power. He termed the use of conventional fuels the hard
path. Ever since, he has been widely seen as the nation's, and
perhaps the world's, leading gadfly and guru on alternative
The jungle is actually a soaring, light-flooded tropical
garden atrium in Lovins' solar-heated, superinsulated, high-tech
house, where lights switch on and off, somewhat eerily, as people
come and go, or brighten and dim with the rising and setting of
the sun. The atrium jungle is complete with banana and mango
trees, a trickling waterfall sonically tuned for tranquility by a
Japanese expert, and, on the low bough of a bougainvillea, a
three-foot, hostile-looking green iguana at which Lovins coos
affectionately. A second, smaller one likes to ride on Lovins'
Today, he suggests, thanks to the environmental warmth
emanating from the Clinton administration, ideas that he has been
promoting for nearly two decades might at last have a chance to
blossom. His key notion: that an array of technological
innovations, from high-efficiency light bulbs and refrigerators
to heat-trapping windows and computer-controlled motors, could,
if employed nationwide, save such staggering amounts of energy
that the need for more coal mines or oil wells, and the attendant
pollution, or the need to use troops to protect foreign oil
supplies, would be obviated.
Some administration officials have suggested that Lovins'
ideas are already influencing plans for new energy policies. More
circumspectly, Marla Romash, communications director for Vice
President Al Gore, acknowledges that "Amory Lovins is a
continuing source of good ideas."
In fact, although his ideas were once roundly denounced by
establishment scientists and executives, they have in recent
years begun to cut a swath across a wide field. Lovins now serves
as a consultant to the Pacific Gas Electric Co., a large
California utility; General Motors, and the Electric Power
Research Institute, a utility industry research organization that
once so spurned him, he claims, that he was refused admittance to
Indeed, although Lovins still has critics, the criticism more
often takes the form of grudging respect.
"My professional instincts are offended by his tendency to
exaggerate and his single-track approach," said Dr. Chauncey
Starr, president emeritus of the electric power institute. "But
that doesn't take away from the fact that he's become an
Starr said he doesn't recall shutting Lovins out of the
building, although he was then the institute's president, but
acknowledges that "the relationship was cool at the time."
Others are considerably more effusive.
"I think it's fair to say he truly has played the role of a
prophet," said John S. Hoffman, who is responsible for energy
efficiency programs at the Environmental Protection Agency. "A
lot of what's happened in this field simply wouldn't have
happened without him. At this point, everyone looks to Amory to
get new ideas."
The 1976 Foreign Affairs article provoked a far different
response. Published when Lovins was 29, his proposal _ that it
would be feasible and economically sound to turn away from fossil
fuels and nuclear power _ incensed the energy industry. In
subsequent hearings, its scientists and executives pummeled a
Senate committee with nearly 3,000 pages of ferocious testimony
about his idea's demerits. …