What Should Policymakers Do?
In a market based economy, consumers have the ultimate say in technology choices. So when products are priced competitively and benefit society, they will be purchased. That does not mean that regulations and taxes don’t have a place in the selection process though; they do. Rebates, taxes, tariffs and regulations all influence costs and value.
For many years, our regulators have sheltered oil from its true costs. Lobbyists, big oil and the automotive industry all have had a big say in the deflated cost of oil. Now our environment is paying the price, for food and commodity prices are skyrocketing and the sustainability of the human race is in jeopardy.
Policymakers are essential in ensuring consumers, businesses, and others take steps to protect the environment from anthropogenic emission destruction. By listening to science and making smart decisions concerning the use of our natural resources and then choosing technologies that will minimize the impact on the natural environment, energy prices can be stabilized, air pollution can be improved, and global warming can be mitigated.
Below is a list of policy actions that require serious consideration:
- Carbon Policy – First and foremost, our nation needs to promulgate carbon policy using either a carbon tax or carbon cap and trade market mechanism that will make renewable technologies competitive with conventional energy technologies. It is long overdue that we include, or at least account for, the true costs of pollution and healthcare in the costs of fossil fuels. Logically, this would be a simple switch whereby public healthcare costs, pollution prevention and cleanup would be shifted from standalone taxes and fees to a use or sales tax on all fossil fuels. This should include all combustion and energy use, all transportation use and some or all manufacturing uses.
- Tax Credit Shift – Remove all tax credits from oil production facilities as that only falsely incentivizes oil and penalizes clean energy sources. Award those tax credits to renewable energy project developers.
- Emission Reduction Target Policies – Begin with the end in mind. Require all states to have stringent emission reduction targets. Also ensure those policies allow for market-based flexibility to meet those emission reduction targets.
- Mandatory Energy Efficiency Requirements – Require performance standards on all energy using products and equipment to ensure energy efficiency is continually driven higher and achieved nationally as quickly as possible. California’s Title 24 standards are an excellent source of best practices and should be implemented in all states, mandated by the federal government.
- Energy Efficiency Programs – Enable energy efficiency programs to be managed by the states and regional, unbiased parties (not utilities). This will remove the barriers and unfair competition from entities that are not fuel and technology neutral. Then, each state should have qualified, independent energy consultants and engineers that are also fuel and technology neutral to provide those energy efficiency services. This will allow much faster adoption and more creativity for end user demand management, energy efficiency and on site renewable power solutions at a more cost effective basis.
- Zero Emission Power Plants – No new fossil power plants should be built and all existing plants should be retrofitted for zero emissions. Existing coal plants can be replaced with natural gas combined-cycle plants or retrofitted with CCS technologies to drop CO2 emission levels to zero or negligible output. It is absolutely essential to minimize increasing concentrations of CO2 and other potent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. CCS is a solution to minimize emissions while renewable technologies are deployed on a large scale.
- Carbon Sink Enhancement – Stop promoting incentivizing use of food crops for fuel. Whatever the United States does, affects all world economies. Carbon sinks need to be enhanced by mitigating destruction of natural carbon sinks such as forests and other vegetated lands.
- Consumer Power Choice – Allow freedom of choice for consumer power. Allow communities to choose their own competitive non polluting sources for energy, whether it be integrated into their own buildings or buying power from a clean power provider. On site power options and rebate programs should not be managed by utilities and power generators. That is a conflict of interest.
- Sustainable, walking/bicycle communities – Stop funding roadway widening of “busy” streets and shift to policies that promote walkable live/work communities so every single resident does not have to drive a car just to get a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread.
- Mass transit – Adopt fast, secure mass transit systems such as light rail in all major cities interconnected to airports and fast bullet trains between the cities. Put an end to policies using food products for fuel. Unfortunately, this only results in pushing up the cost of food commodities which then promotes further acceleration of rain forest clear cutting to grow corn or other crops for fuel. This has an adverse effect of actually accelerated the pace of global warming thus reducing our chances to discover new health care cures as a result of extinction of rain forest plants and animals.[xxvii]
A hybrid approach to solve the energy crisis is required to ensure our nation has energy security, stabilized energy prices, and a healthy, sustainable future. Aggressive steps by all individuals, business and building owners, utilities and policymakers are essential to ensure the nation continues to invest in these technologies. So, challenge yourself to become educated about one or more of the green energy technologies available to reduce our nation’s energy usage. Use the knowledge you gain to make energy efficient changes in your lifestyle and encourage others to do the same. Communicate with your local, state, and federal representatives challenging them to pass policies that support the development of the technologies that can help green our country.
In summary, the following changes are needed:
- Consumers should walk, cycle or use mass transit to commute and run errands. When that is not available, use only super efficient cars like hybrids or electric vehicles. Consumers should also demand super efficient homes and products. Seek expert advice on how to convert your residence into a zero energy home by improving insulation, shading and efficiency to minimize or eliminate air conditioning, then add solar energy to make up the balance needed.
- Businesses should encourage telecommuting, cycling and mass transit for their employees. Businesses should also get employees and customers involved in energy conservation by promoting awareness and direct cost impacts. Businesses should seek out well qualified architects to design green buildings and engineers to retrofit existing buildings for net zero energy use while building only high efficiency passively conditioned structures.
- Utilities should invest in sustainable clean generation as close to the demand centers as possible. For example, wind near the Midwest cities and towns, Solar in the Southwest region, nuclear and emerging technologies such as waste-to-energy in the big cities. Existing transmission grids and lines should be upgraded to work at full capacity, full time while enabling intermittent sources easy access to the electric grid.
- Regulators and Policy Makers should transfer all the public air pollution monitoring, control and healthcare costs directly related to fossil fuels as a tax on the fuel. Public utilities commissions should mandate a short term (15 – 20 year) phase in for all fossil fuel power plants to be converted or replaced with zero emission technologies. The IRS should remove all tax credits on fossil fuels and temporarily provide tax credits for building integrated renewable energy systems. State and local officials should mandate that new communities are sustainable and walkable following guidance such as the Ahwahnee Principles. Economic Development officials should work to revitalize downtowns with the same principles, promote walking, cycling and light rail transportation as well as live/work buildings for safer communities and healthier people.
With a common goal of a clean, stable supply of energy, communities, states, and regions can work together to develop and implement policies that are logical for each area. If this is completed, our nation will be able to rapidly develop clean technologies that will save our planet. Act now and mitigate the reign of the fossil fuels!
 The low estimate assumption includes shading, excludes some industrial and agricultural rooftop space, and assumes a 100 W/sq meter output. Please see the Denhol report for the assumptions.
[ii] [EIA] Annual Energy Review 2007. “Figure 1.5 Energy Consumption and Expenditures Indicators.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec1_12.pdf (Oct 2008).
[iii][EIA]. “International Energy Outlook 2006.” http://www.fypower.org/pdf/EIA_IntlEnergyOutlook(2006).pdf. (Dec 2007).
[iv] [EIA]. “International Energy Outlook 2007.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/pdf/0484(2007).pdf. (May 2007).
[v] Environmental and Energy Study Institute. “Climate Change Fact Sheet.” http://www.eesi.org/publications/Fact%20Sheets/EC_Fact_Sheets/hansen_climate_testimony_06.pdf. (Apr 2008).
[vii] [USGBC] United States Green Building Council. “LEED.” http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CategoryID=19. (Jul 2008).
[ix] California State University – Fullerton. “Air Pollution Costs San Joaquin Valley $3 Billion a Year.” March 2006. http://campusapps.fullerton.edu/news/2006/185_airpollutionreport.html (Sep 2008).
[x][NREL] National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Parabolic Trough Power Plant Market, Economic Assessment and Deployment.” http://www.nrel.gov/csp/troughnet/market_economic_assess.html?print. (April 2008).
[xi] [NREL]. “United States Annual Average Wind Power.” http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/maps/chap2/2-01m.html. (April 10 2008).
[xiii]International Nuclear Safety Center. “Maps of Nuclear Power Reactors.” http://www.insc.anl.gov/pwrmaps/map/united_states.html. (April 20 2008).
[xiv] [IPCC] International Panel on Climate Change.
[xvi] New York Times. “More Coal-Fired Power Plants.” http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/10/19/business/20071020_COAL_GRAPHIC.html. (April 2008).
[xvii] [EIA]. “Emissions of Greenhouse Gases.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/archive/gg03rpt/stopics.html. (April 2008).
[xix] Denhol, P, Ph.D., Robert M. Margolis, Ph.D., and Ken Zweibel.
“Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.” http://www.ases.org/climatechange/toc/05_pv.pdf. (April 2008)
[xxi][DOE]. “Hydrogen Program Record.” http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/5038_h2_cost_competitive.pdf. (April 2008)
[xxii] [EIA]. “Weekly U.S. Retail Gasoline Prices, Regular Grade.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/wrgp/mogas_home_page.html. (Jul 2008).
[xxiii] Science Daily. “’Major Discovery’ Primed To Unleash Solar Revolution: Scientists Mimic Essence Of Plants’ Energy Storage System.” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080731143345.htm (October 2008).
[xxvi] Goliath. “Carbon capture retrofits and the cost of regulatory uncertainty.” http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-7309936/Carbon-capture-retrofits-and-the.html. (April 2008).
[xxvii] Time. “The Clean Energy Scam.” April 7, 2008. pg 41 – 45.