Energy security worries – a two-edged sword

The best thing to happen to renewable energy and energy efficiency this century is without a doubt the relentless rise in all forms of energy.  Gasoline going from $1 to $3 in just a couple years, higher utility bills, and worries about terrorism have defense hawks worried about “energy security” and environmentalists together for the first time.

Having a Republican president talking about renewable energy has certainly been nice for investors in renewables, but I know I’m not the only long term clean energy advocate whom this makes more than a little nervous.

I’m happy to have Bush, et al on board and paddling, but I’m worried that they’re also grabbing for the rudder with their emphasis on energy security rather than environmental degradation and efficient use of resources.

Here are the directions the energy security types are pursuing I think are misguided:

  1. Coal.  Because of rising energy prices, and the threat of future caps on carbon emissions, utilities all over the country are rushing to build coal plants (read the excellent press release from Environment Colorado) while they still can: they justify this because coal is a domestic resource, and it is “cheaper” than other sources of electricity (this is not true, when compared to wind, but it was true so recently that most people still believe it.)  Energy efficiency measures are much cheaper than any type of new generation.
  2. Nuclear.  Energy security hawks tend to be big fans for nuclear energy.  How having more sources of plutonium and hazardous waste around that could be attacked or used by terrorists increases our security, I don’t know.  Not to mention the fact that nuclear power is quite expensive.  I can only attribute the energy security hawk’s attachment to nuclear to their love of big solutions to big problems.
  3. Ethanol.  Cellulostic Ethanol will be a wonderful thing, when it emerges from the lab and becomes a commercially viable technology, but all the subsidies for corn Ethanol do very little to improve our energy security or reduce the amount of carbon we emit.  I see them mainly as a subsidy for farmers, cloaked as a move for energy security.  I do like the push for more flex-fuel vehicles, because it only costs $150 to make a vehicle flex fuel in the factory, over the cost of the gasoline version, and when and if cellulostic technology comes of age, the vehicle fleet will be ready for it.

In short, I’m glad to have the energy security hawks on board, but I’m hoping we can get them to listen a little more carefully to those of us who have been rowing this boat all along.

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