President Obama has enunciated a national energy policy he labels “all of the above”. That is not a policy but an enabling statement. The federal regulatory agencies are now free to dip into any energy business to carry out whatever policy they view as within their statutory mandate.
In order to have a strategic policy you have to make rational data driven decisions that can withstand public scrutiny.
In reality the current national energy policy is anti-coal, moderately anti-oil, undecided on natural gas, and in favor of anything labeled “clean energy”. In reality nothing is clean, but rather cleaner. Windmill turbines and solar panels require rare earth minerals commonly recovered in conflict areas in Africa and Asia or under non-democratic jurisdictions. Windmills if improperly placed kill eagles and other protected birds that normally land people in federal detention.
But if you are a Democrat and not a Obamacrat, then in addition to clean energy voters you are thinking about working and middle class employment. What is your plan for putting unemployed coal miners, pipe fitters, and power plant workers back to work if you shut down coal fired power plants and pipelines?
Personally, I favor the elimination in the coming decade of all or most of our coal fired plants. The gains in traditional pollution (heavy metals, particulates, ozone, etc) and carbon pollution are dramatic. The first step in doing that is to start enabling the cleanest “fracking” oil and gas technology in the world.
After you replace those coal plants with natural gas accentuated by solar and appropriate uses of wind you also have a technology to sell world-wide. A technology, fracking, that the United States leads the world in developing and deploying with existing proven employment. The President made fun this weekend of the 2,000 blue collar jobs the Xcel Pipeline will produce.
The clean energy market is providing marginal employment. The oil and gas industry is producing exploding employment. People may have to migrate, as did many in the 1930s, but putting coal miners and power plant employees to work in the oil and gas industry is a solution. Those folks are not laughing at 2,000 jobs or many times that this President and his “all of the above” anti-employment energy policy are not delivering.
And there is another choice that has to be made in addition to shifting from mildly negative to constructively enthusiastic about oil and gas. Wind is a limited source unworthy of subsidies beyond the existing federal mandate. To the extent the government is going to subsidize anything, it should be solar. And there is a reasonable case to be made that with proper government policy solar can be viable from home to industry by the time current subsidies run out in 2016.
The key to solar policy is bringing down the financing for adoption from current distressed debt and venture capital funding levels as high as 20% to something approaching mortgage rates on real estate. Anything the government can do to get out of the way of consumer access to credit for solar would be useful. Additionally, at some point our construction of the electrical grid has to stop treating solar as if it was a coal fired power plant.
Your home installation sends power back to the central grid, then the grid powers your house. We need a system where the installation drives your house and draws on the grid as needed. A distributed power source not a Soviet style power monopoly model. Our current federal and state governments have locked up grid change in state licensed monopolies.
“All of the above energy” gave us ethanol, windmills killing eagles, a regulatory fight over traditional pollutants as opposed to solutions, grid chaos, and uncertainity in the oil and gas fields in a time of great opportunity.
Getting this policy wrong because it “doesn’t grow the economy from the middle class out” or some other egghead slogan is incompetent. When it actively worsens unemployment it is morally wrong. If only there was a rational Republican or a Clintonesque Democratic alternative.