After years of opposing or ridiculing renewable energy, the giant oil companies are using a new approach. A recent ExxonMobil advertising campaign puts it this way: “Oil, gas, coal, biofuels, nuclear, wind, solar … to fuel the future we need them all.”
Not an unexpected maneuver from a fossil fuel company that has owned Washington and received subsidies and tax breaks for decades. What is unfortunate is that this is the exact kind of energy pitch coming out of the Obama Administration and most Congressional Democrats. Indeed it is right out of candidate Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric last year.
Then Senator Obama gave every energy source its due although he spent an inordinate amount of time pushing the mirage of “clean coal” and keeping nuclear energy on the table.
The problem is that all energy sources are not created equal for purposes of efficiency, and the well being of consumers, workers, the environment and posterity. Regardless of their BTU production, different kinds of energy produce different levels of harms and benefits, short and long term.
Take atomic power. Wall Street financiers have been adamant for years that lending billions of dollars to utilities to construct a single nuclear plant requires a 100% U.S. government loan guarantee. A 90% loan guarantee by the taxpayers is rejected by the Wall Streeters. They want a 100% guarantee on the barrelhead.
The well-known physicist, environmentalist Amory Lovins argues against nuclear energy just on economic grounds. He says he doesn’t even have to get to the safety issues to recommend rejection. I know no one of prominence of on the other side willing to debate him. If you do, let me know.
But the safety issues surrounding the nuclear option will not go away. Neither the unresolved permanent storage of deadly radioactive waste, nor the national security problems, nor the risk of a class nine meltdown that could contaminate, in the words of the old Atomic Energy Agency (of the U.S. government), an area the size of Pennsylvania, are going away.
Then, of course, there is the missing “source” of energy from the Exxon ad. This is energy efficiency. Reducing waste. A thousand megawatts you don’t waste is a thousand megawatts you don’t have to produce. The same goes for not having to waste a gallon of gasoline in gas guzzling motor vehicles. Nothing can compete with the payback ratios of energy conservation which includes building and engine construction and use. Yet again and again it is not at the top of the list or on many lists at all.
Then there are the renewables — wind, geothermal, water and all the wonderous varieties of solar. A few days ago, the Sustainable Energy Coalition had its 12th annual Congressional renewable energy and energy efficiency EXPO + Forum at the Cannon House Office Building in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This year’s EXPO featured over fifty businesses, trade associations, government agencies and non-profit policy organizations to hear some members of Congress regale them and converse with visitors.
I found the exhibits and their personable exhibitors to be specific, comprehensive and seemingly convinced that renewables are finally, after some failed starts, on an irreversible road to greater market share.
It was not only the advanced hardware and the use of tax credits that fed their optimism. Renewables are branching out in ways that are bringing them nearer to a level playing field with their heavily subsidized and coddled fossil fuel and nuclear “competitors.” More venture capital, better tax credits, rebates and various state and local proposals exist to facilitate financing for users.
One spreading incentive comes from my home state of Connecticut which offers a special solar energy leasing plan for homeowners. The Nutmeg State claims it is leading “the way with the nation’s first rate payer supporter residential leasing program for solar energy.” Catch the details by visiting ctsolarlease.com or phone 888-232-3477.
The point of this column is to demand thoughtful discrimination by our policy makers between different kinds of energy. Some are clearly better than others. From the federal government on down to the state and local level, a discriminatory approach is a must if the conversion to renewables and energy conservation from fossils and nuclear is to accelerate.
The old energy lobbies are very stubborn and have their hooks into too many politicians who mouth the ExxonMobil party line.
There are far more jobs in the new energy economy with far more health, efficiency, and security benefits than there are in staying with hydrocarbons and radioactive atoms.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions.