I was recently asked the question – and thought it deserves some unpacking. I think the underlying challenge to a having a stable and coherent grand energy strategy is the lack of coherence about what we want our future to look like, and what factors are actually influencing it. If we want a future reality, we need to be informed and have no illusions about what our current reality is – and understand the transition needed to get from ‘now’ to ‘desired future’. To this end, I again state that we need a ‘national energy dialogue’ to go along with a national energy policy. Whether it comes from grassroots or top down, the dialogue needs to take place so people understand what the choices are, and what the factors are guiding those choices – choices about where the energy we use comes from, it’s environmental and economic impact, as well as how it shapes the future of our country and world.
This sounds like a lot of happy, fluffy, ideal future talk, but it’s a vital part to making decisions. As it stands, America seems to want to do well on the test, but it’s not going to class and doing the readings at night; so when exam-day comes, all that is written under the policy of “what should US energy policy be?” is some conviction or opinion-driven feeling about how things should be, rather than something planned and deliberated, acknowledging various difficulties and necessary maneuvers to overcome them.
I agree with Robert Rapier, as well as this “the CEO of American Electric Power, [who] recently called for a comprehensive, multi-decade policy, citing the power sector’s desire for regulatory certainty” – multi-decade, comprehensive, absolutely. The obvious uncertainty and flux of the coming decades doesn’t mean we should plan less, but plan more and more carefully work out contingencies. There are so many factors affecting our current period, particularly in light of energy’s inherently international implications. “Calamity cannot be avoided by trying to run away from it.”
Also, I agree with Joel B. Brown; the BP example serves well, as does Fukushima – both things that improved regulations and more diligent, proactive management could have mitigated. Even the International Energy Agency’s recent report, entitled Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas, acknowledges shale gas and tight oil will require most sound of practices to effectively deal with growing energy demands. The IEA is looking ahead; the US should welcome their advice.
America needs desperately to uncouple political polarization and energy policy – which takes me back to my opening point of a national energy dialogue. Just like the US getting its credit rating reduced due to the uncertainty generated by the near-disaster on raising the national debt limit, this quarrelsomeness affects energy as well. Whatever the outcome, that a decision like what to do about Keystone XL is unfolding the way it has indicates a lack of a solid plan, no less a lack of coherent public opinion.
The more time without a plan, the more time wasted… and from a competition-based vantage, the more time competitors gain ground over the US’s lack of coherence. From the perspective that sees how important consistent, well thought out planning in terms of research and development, botched regulatory practices, and future energy markets, the more time wasted means the less future advantage the US could be putting itself in as time passes.
If we kept up the intensified focus that was in the US after the 1970′s energy shocks, we could have been in a different position now, forty years later. Yet now, again, new technology creates a buffer zone, potentially impeding the sense of urgency.
I would suggest a national energy policy understands this bit of history, and aims to position itself to a more advantageous future position in light of these many elements.
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