Joyful Assignment For the Next President – Formulation of a Unified National Energy Policy

?Joyful Assignment For the Next President – Formulation of a Unified National Energy Policy

By his own admission, a certain former President was not keen on “”the vision thing”” as a general proposition. He never did get around to proposing a Unified National Energy Policy. The successor co-Presidency brought forth many initiatives, but a Unified National Energy Policy was not one of them. Iteration II of the “”no vision thing”” has done no better in this regard.

Apparently the next Presidency is to be neither a Restoration nor a Continuation, which is probably a net positive. The prospect of a breath of fresh air carries with it a certain appeal. Whoever is elected President next autumn has a great opportunity to bring forth a unified national energy plan. It is indeed very late in the day, but it ought to be one of the entries at the very top of the Priority List.

So very much time has been wasted. It can’t be recaptured. The current thrashing-about for a “”windfall profits tax”” on Big Oil may be a reflection of a peculiarly human instinct to inflict punishment. There is a certain vengefulness about it all, with overtones of envy, jealousy, and coveting thy neighbor’s goods. Certainly, there is great pain involved in having to pay a small fortune to fill the gas tank, but there would seem not to be very great profit in the retail side of the business, for otherwise Exxon Mobil would not be exiting therefrom, as has been reported this morning. XOM concluded that the availability of gasoline on the retail premises has become the loss-leader or zero-profit “”bait”” in order to bring the customer into the store in order to pay for the gas and then sell him pretzels and hot coffee at good markups, which after all is not really its chosen line of work.

I lived on Long Island, New York, from birth until just a few years ago. I clearly remember the drumbeat of opposition to the proposed nuclear energy plant at Shoreham, which was actually fueled and ready to begin producing electricity when the naysayers finally prevailed and the plant was shut down before it ever earned its first dollar. The memories of Chernobyl and of the close shave at Three Mile Island were fresh in the mind. The costs involved in building Shoreham and then decommissioning it were inevitably “”administered”” to customers at the retail level, who continue to pay for it to this very day.

France (perhaps unexpectedly, France?) generates about 40% of its national electricity usage at its nuclear generating plants. It is a world leader in the design and construction supervision of state-of-the-art nuclear power facilities. Other European countries, by contrast, reflexively stopped new atomic electricity generation cold. Now chickens are coming home to roost, with a newly invigorated Gazprom holding all of the face cards, possessing the power (and perhaps the willfulness) to have its way with Europe in terms of the availability and the cost of natural gas.

It may be that we in the United States have tapped all of our practical sources of hydroelectric power. And yet – one wonders about that, upon seeing pictures of vast acreage of farmland and entire Midwestern cities inundated with flood water – all of it doing damage, and none of it generating a single kilowatt of power on its determined way to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, loaded with valuable topsoil to build up the Delta. What a waste.

Is there no reasonable way to capture the inherent generative power of much of that wasted water – and prevent massive property damage and disruption of lives while doing so?

Is there latent hydroelectric generative power available to be harnessed in northern Canada, which by mutual agreement might be developed?

We are told that the United States still has very substantial reserves of soft coal in the ground. Granted, coal is polluting, and utilities consider it to be the “”fallback fuel.”” (We read that they are falling back on it now, at least to some extent, in view of the prices of fuel oil and of natural gas). It would seem that coal will necessarily be a major part of the electricity-generation equation for decades to come, like it or not.

Then there is wind power, which is still tiny, but growing. Denmark generates a very large percentage of its total electricity by wind power. It’s a small country, to be sure, but it’s leading the way and showing us what can be done.

Generation of electricity by tidal action or by wave action is in the picture. Those concepts are appealing because the source of power never goes away. They do seem to be a long distance from becoming real on any substantial scale.

And then there is nuclear. I had thought to myself, years ago when Shoreham was shut down, that a terrible mistake had just been made, that we were going in reverse, and that we would come to rue the day. That is not to say that “”Shoreham”” was the right installation in the right place, because it probably wasn’t – only that the mob-like, frenzied reaction to its construction evoked an animalistic, irrational streak in human nature which has been seen before over the centuries, and will no doubt be seen again.

Rather than “”shutting down Shoreham”” and stopping in its tracks the development of nuclear-powered electricity generating plants nationwide, we should instead have been proceeding apace with constructing those plants and building up a uranium fuel reserve at the same time, especially since uranium is available in reasonable abundance right here at home. Canada has a pound or two of it too, we hear.

Cursory reading reveals that good strides are now being made in solar generation of electricity. Surely, as the technology advances, solar will become an ever-more-important part of the entire electricity picture.

The whole concept of deriving ethanol from corn has turned out badly. I never understood the supposed logic of it. The entire enterprise is one gigantic boondoggle at the taxpayers’ expense, and it robs the world of food at exactly a time when it is most needed. I foresee that ethanol can become an important fuel for cars and trucks, as it has in Brazil; but it ought not be made in great volume from food grains. It is difficult to transport in bulk, as compared to gasoline, partly because of its corrosive properties; but in dilute form and in small package units it is widely available and is easily carried about. (see: research categories “”beer”” and “”Jack Daniels””).

Liquefied natural gas is a bit of a puzzle. It’s devilish to handle; it’s dangerous; if it comes from overseas, that adversely affects the balance of payments and does little if anything to promote our energy independence. LNG may be and remain in the mix, but I doubt that it has the potential of becoming a major part of the solution.

I recall having a conversation some years ago with a very book-learned man of academe. His main theme centered upon the necessity to mandate the manufacture of automobiles in such manner that they would operate on stored electricity (batteries) only – i.e., without petroleum-derived fuel whatsoever. Recharging of the batteries would be accomplished by the use of electrical outlets at home and at universally-available “”filling”” stations. My response was that it was a marvelous idea; but I gently inquired what he envisioned to be the fuel which would be used in order to generate all that electricity. The question stumped him cold.

There are not going to be any easy answers; and they are not going to be provided by people whose lives are centered upon the concept of “”No,”” “”Never,”” or “”Not In My Back Yard.”” Many folks will be unhappy, maybe including me. There may even be more drilling in Alaska, wind farms in the sea within sight of Nantucket or even (!) Hyannis, and oil rigs offshore Palm Beach. However, if the professional naysayers would prefer to remain mobile, warm in winter and cool in summer, and continue to see Pat and Vanna appear on the TV screen when they click the “”On”” button, there may have to be some tradeoffs.

Every actual or potential source of electrical energy should be on the new President’s desk for discussion. He has the opportunity to get off to a good start by gathering around him the best advice he can find; and thereupon, for the first time, formulate a Unified National Energy Policy, to be presented to the Congress and intended to be in place by the end of his first year in office. It should include specific goals for each actual and potential source of electrical power, together with targets for the substitution of alternate fuels in place of gasoline, Diesel fuel, home heating oil, and jet fuel.

My Dad taught me a long time ago that there are only two steps involved in getting a job done: 1) Start, and 2) Keep Going.

On his very first day in office, the new President should start work on development of a Unified National Energy Policy. And then he should Keep Going when the brickbats begin to fly.

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