A Sunshine Nation: Revisiting Our National Energy Policy

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by H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D.

Years ago, while living in the “Sunshine State” of Florida, I argued with a representative of a regional energy utility (one fueled by natural gas and petroleum) who informed me that solar energy was not a viable solution to the high energy demands of the State’s citizens.  She offered the high costs of conversion from fossil fuels to solar technologies hand-in-hand with a low return on investment until years later.  Further the representative pointed out the unreliability of sunlight as a source of constant power and then touted the low demand for alternative energies.  I asked her if she could really say such things objectively, given her high-paid position with the utilities company.  I couldn’t help but wonder if her arguments were also similar to those offered against the automobile when inventor Henry Ford was informed that the horseless carriage was only a fad!  Or, better yet, when inventor Lee DeForest postulated, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.”  Peter Ustinov once remarked, “If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.”

We are a “Sunshine Nation” too often manipulated by the experts and stakeholders of an outmoded energy technology, bellowing mightily, “Solar energy isn’t feasible.”  Yet, given that the amount of solar energy hitting Earth exceeds the total energy consumed by humanity by a factor of over 20,000 times, it’s a simple matter of technology investment – a qualitative, not quantitative approach to societal need – and not any pre-ordained impossibility as suggested by these prognosticators with a coarse commitment to their industries’ bottom line!  Solar energy IS feasible; and those who argue against it, including a small conservative cadre of ill-informed (or ill-willed) politicians on Capitol Hill, are snakes in the grass for suggesting otherwise.  If they were truly for energy independence in the United States, they would have been fighting for solar, wind, and geothermal technologies years ago!

Last year, I made a pitch in this newspaper column for a national energy policy (see the 7 April 2011 issue).  Now I would like to revisit my proposal in summary, especially as our national elections loom on the horizon.  The target date for full implementation of my proposal is somewhere between 2050 and 2075.

• Part 1: Convert most coal-fired power plants to natural gas by 2020.

• Part 2: Phase out all other carbon-emitting power plants by 2025 to 2030.

• Part 3: Build an additional 200 to 400 nuclear power plants in the United States by 2025 and, at the same time, aggressively pursue alternative types of power generation such as solar, hydro, and wind.

• Part 4: Shut down all carbon-emitting power stations, including natural gas, by 2050.

• Part 5: Decommission all nuclear power plants and provide all energy needs via alternatives by 2075.

• Part 6: Phase out all federal government subsidies (e.g., tax breaks and government protection programs) that keep gasoline prices artificially low for consumers; simultaneously, provide a carrot-and-stick incentives program to the automobile industry to develop clean, safe, and economically encouraging transportation technologies.  As activist and attorney Robert Kennedy, Jr. once said, “You show me a polluter, I’ll show you a subsidy.”  Carbon-based energy companies probably remain solvent only with the help of subsidies from the federal government.

• Part 7: Emphasize conservation and stewardship in a world of 7 billion people trying to live sustainably with finite resources.  For example, adamantly refuse the development for petroleum exploration and extraction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and other irreplaceable treasures held in the public trust.  Further, disallow the Keystone XL Pipeline (see my 12 January 2012 column) and other such proposals for their likely impacts on the environment and their unlikely positive influence on energy independence and net jobs creation for the nation.

Note that these various parts are not incremental steps, but are interlinked components of a systems approach to our national energy needs.  Of course, this plan guarantees the extinction of petroleum, coal, and natural gas companies, at least as they are currently engineered.  Indeed the term, fossil, may apply to more than just what they extract from the Earth, but also to their dead-end technologies and the outdated mind-sets in their board rooms.  Thus, it’s particularly irksome during this election year cycle that so many politicians and pundits are advocating vociferously for short-term quasi-solutions for our collective energy needs.  Developing ANWR, installing a cross-country pipeline, and pushing for more and more exploration for limited natural resources such as petroleum and coal (even via potentially dangerous methods such as hydraulic fracturing) are all dead-end, quick-fix diversions from the only sustainable path ahead: the promotion and expansion of next-generation energy sources to power society.  It’s just a matter of resolve to turn such dreams into reality for our nation abundant with near-limitless sunlight, wind, and geothermal resources.  “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow,” (Robert Goddard, 1882-1945).