Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wishful Thinking

Lisa Margonelli at the NYTimes' energy-themed Pipeline blog (hidden behind the Times Select firewall) writes a State of the Union address that she'd like to see, which includes a mea culpa from Dear Leader on not doing enough to wean the US off of our oil addiction (yeah, that's laughable) and the following policy plan:

Starting tomorrow, we’re going to cut back on the oil we use, stimulating our economy to become more energy-efficient, and we’re going to phase in alternative fuels in a way that lets the market decide which ones are best. Of course, we’ll invest in research — billions, in fact, far more than the $29 million I proposed last year to investigate cellulosic ethanol.

On conservation:

The 2005 Energy Bill contained a $450 million fund for public education, but the money has never been spent. We’ll use it to pay for a campaign to teach American drivers to save fuel by changing the way they drive. Driving 55 and changing our habits could save more than 7 billion gallons of gasoline a year. The next thing we’ll do is change the timing on 330,000 traffic signals, which could save as much as 17 billion gallons. Then we’ll help the nation’s long-haul truckers install aerodynamic kits on their trucks to save another billion or more. If we get to the point where we’re saving just 3 percent of what we now spend on gasoline, we’re likely to see the price of gas, as well as the worldwide price of oil, fall. And that will give every household, as well as our foreign policy leaders, a bit of breathing room.

On efficiency:

For the past 30 years, efficiency has been America’s largest and cheapest new energy resource; since 1970, increasing efficiency has met three-quarters of our new energy needs. But we can do much more, and we must do more to reduce greenhouse gases and stay competitive with China and Europe. So we’re going to start an initiative to make every aspect of the American economy better at turning energy into gross domestic product.

We’ll set tough standards for motor vehicles and utilities — our two biggest energy users — so that they reduce total energy demand while delivering more services. We’ll also add a market mechanism so that corporations, cities and other organizations can buy and sell efficiency credits, so-called “white certificates” — something Europe and several American states are already doing. In the meantime, we’ll fix policies that discourage efficiency. (Now, for example, we allow landlords to write off their cost of energy yearly, but we require that they write off investments in energy efficiency over a 30-year period.) We believe this combination of tough standards and an efficiency trading system will speed up the commercialization of cutting-edge technology and, at the same time, improve the lives of people around the world. If you want proof, look at how three decades of refrigerator standards have made for better, cheaper fridges that use 70 percent less energy. With the right policies, we can reduce energy demand by more than 15 percent over the next 10 years, while making our economy more productive and more resilient.

On alternative fuels and vehicles:

In the past I’ve overestimated the potential of alternative fuels. We need to scale back our expectations, so that we develop the smartest fuels, not the most politically convenient ones. For starters, we’re going to stop subsidizing alternative fuels. At the same time, we will put a small tax on fuels that pollute, and as time goes on, we’ll increase that tax. Then we’ll copy a model for renewable energy that’s already working in 20 states. It requires that utility companies meet a “renewable portfolio standard” by making sure that a percentage of their electricity comes from renewable sources like solar, wind and biomass.

We’ll extend that to all states, and we’ll start a similar scheme requiring that a small percentage of renewable fuels be mixed in with gasoline and diesel. We won’t dictate what that fuel is, or how it’s made — that’s a decision best left to the market. Investors will build renewable fuel plants because they’ll know there’s a market, and fuel dealers will buy the best mixture of quality and price. The government’s role here isn’t to pick winners, but to foster research and collaboration between the public and private sectors.
[PS] ThinkProgress has a video of Dear Leader's greatest hits of squandered energy promises.


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