Drilling rhetoric

“Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

— Vice President Dick Cheney


“Conservation” virtually snowballs negative connotations these days. From eye or ear through my kinked brain cord, the word is rooted tenderly with Woodsy Owl’s “Give a Hoot” campaign, which sometimes blends into Old Mr. Owl of Tootsie Pop perfections. If the idle of lost innocence doesn’t distract me too long, I’m helplessly catapulted through Carter’s pullover sweaters; OPEC mischief and the 1970s gas crunch; the plight of struggling loggers and seal clubbers; earth shoes and the FBI’s most wanted eco-prankster. But somehow it all ends at Cheney’s subterranean sneer.

For many of us, conservation was always easy to resent. It represented all the stuff you wanted to do but couldn’t. Tied to land, oceans, and all that natural stuff upstream of the sawmill, conservation tells us to cool our consumption. That our motorbike isn’t welcome in this state park.

By comparison, “efficiency” (as in “marvel of”) is in blinding ascendance. Efficiency is for those of us downstream of the dam, where the power lines faithfully stream into our entertainments, lubricated motors, and chiming gadgetry. Efficiency doesn’t insist on self-denial, it promises technical patches that will allow us to do more with less. (Time will tell how far it actually goes toward shielding us from our high-waste lifestyle.) But the shift in rhetoric is as much to thank for today’s new energy debate as global warming’s conquest of Suburban Mind, the summer’s spike in gas prices, and Repub Swiftboater T. Boone Pickens’ rebirth as a new-style Energy Patriot.

Efficiency forever consigns Cheney’s Vader-like loathing to the afterword of the now-concluding Age of Oil. And it leaves the future open wide.

So, it should come as no surprise that all of the most significant national energy plans before us — those of Obama, McCain, Pickens, and Google — have efficiency, the smartest use of our generated electricity, at their core. Energy innovation is fast becoming our first stop on the road to the New Energy Economy, rather than gathering place of 4-cylinder weaklings. Obviously, the choices before us will require more than simply stopping the anticipated one-percent annual growth in energy demand. To eliminate the release of greenhouse gases, reduce our energy imports, and spur a sagging economy, will require much more than efficiency alone.

Here how four coalitions say they can make it work:



Obamanos: Green gold?

Obama is committed to investing $150 billion over 10 years in an assortment of emerging and established clean-energy technologies, retrofitting of some old baddies, and ramping up efficiency measures across the board. What he is forced to surrender to the faltering economy is anyone’s guess, but his main hesitancy has been over nukes and traditional oil and gas development

Miscalculator? According to a recent U.S. General Accounting Office report, the current administration’s  failure to lay the groundwork for potential next-generation “clean” coal technology has left major legal and technical challenges remaining, pushing the dream of clean coal further into the future.


Big Easy: Efficiency

Cut 15 percent of projected energy demand by 2020 through efficiency. Require all new federal buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030; increase appliance standards; weatherize a million homes per year; establish a matching-grant program to help overhaul national grid network and start transition to a digital Smart Grid network.

Climate chaos

Take CO2 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, in accordance with the International Panel on Climate Change recommendation. Auction off CO2 pollution “credits” for a Cap-and-Trade system of CO2 management. Use portion of proceeds to help pay for biofuel and clean-energy development research.

Crude tech

Cautious on expanding offshore drilling. “Use It or Lose It” on existing 68 million acres oil and gas leases. Fast track Montana and North Dakota oil-shale development and Arkansas and North Texas’s “unconventional” natural-gas formations. Complete a natural gas pipeline from Alaska while getting more from existing fields. Commercialize “clean” coal technology and develop five “first-of-a-kind” commercial plants with carbon capture and sequestration.


Get 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2012. $1 billion to help convert industrial manufacturing centers to clean-tech wave, including funds for worker retraining.


$4 billion in credits and loan guarantees to domestic Big Auto, plus implement National Low Carbon Fuel Standard requiring fuel suppliers to start cutting carbon in 2010.

Increase auto efficiency four percent per year along with undisclosed federal investment in vehicle research, with eye to battery technology. Half of all federal vehicle purchases by 2012 will be plug-in hybrids or all-electric. Plus: $7,000 tax credit for purchase of newer hyper-efficient vehicles.

Nuke rhymes with…

Bottleneck. Supports “safe and secure” nuclear energy and would kill proposed Yucca Mountain dump, which, in turn, means another decade or more before a high-level nuke dump is opened.


McCain: Dr. Nuketastic?

Limited information on website and onstage (compounded by a campaign headquarters that couldn’t offer us anything additional), still the gist is clear: Drilling deeper into traditional domestic supplies of crude oil and natural gas, baby, and an explosion of new nuclear power. Though McCain’s plan is called an “all-of-the-above” approach, his turning over energy matters to running-mate Sarah Palin solidifies the link to traditional fuel sources.

Miscalculator: Continued suggestion of a link between increased domestic drilling and U.S. fuel prices borders on deceptive practice. The DOE says offshore drilling will not have any effect on gas prices until 2030 — and then it will be minimal, if at all.



“Higher” efficiency standards for federal buildings leased or purchased. Upgrade national grid, including SmartMeter technology.

Climate chaos

Reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. (Not quite IPCC recommendation.) Convert to Cap-and-Trade to regulate carbon while allowing “lowest-cost” compliance options. Appears to recommend giving away pollution credits to industry and only start to auction them off as the carbon market develops.

Crude tech

Lift federal moratorium on Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas deposits in U.S. territorial waters. Majority of such are found in the Gulf of Mexico. Eliminate windfall-profits tax. $2 billion per year for “clean” coal research.


Tax credits for companies that invest in Research and Development of clean tech. “Rationalize the current patchwork of temporary tax credits” for renewable energy, until wind, solar, and biomass industries “no longer merit the taxpayers’ dollars.”


Scaled tax credit for low- to zero-carbon emission car owners, includes $5,000 to those who buy a “zero carbon emission” car. $300 million-dollar prize for innovator that creates a battery capable of launching new era of electric vehicles. Transition to “100-percent Flex-Fuel vehicles.” Enforce existing CAFE standards.

Nuke rhymes with…

45 nuke plants by 2030 ($316 billion) — more than double the cost of the Obama-Biden energy plan — with ultimate goal of 100 new nuke plants.




Oogly Googly

Google has provided the most extensive response to Al Gore’s recent challenge to the country to eliminate carbon-emitting energy sources and perhaps mirrors more closely the Green Party tenets. While it takes more than an extra decade to meet Gore’s goal, the company’s proposed Clean Energy 2030 would take petroleum out of the energy mix altogether and severely cut our carbon emissions. As with both presidential campaigns, the plan hinges on federal involvement, including incentives to help bring renewable power sources like solar into coal’s current price range. It would also require creation of a new “Smart Grid” that both campaigns support.

Total cost: $4.4 trillion, but $5.4 trillion anticipated in ultimate savings.

Big Easy: Efficiency

No surprises here. By making better use of electricity, Google engineers say the one percent annual rise in national energy needs projected by the DOE’s Energy Information Agency can be eliminated — reducing projected fossil fuel use by 30 percent by 2030.

Climate chaos

By eliminating all coal and oil use in power generation and transportation by 2030, the plan would cut today’s CO2 emissions in half — and take us halfway to the International Panel on Climate Change’s called-for 80-percent reduction by 2050.

Crude tech

Clean what? Ha ha. Too many legal and technical problems to be solved: Coal is dead. However, 250 GW of natural-gas-generated power remain to help “shore up” imbalances brought on by fluctuations of renewables.


Huge boosts across the board. Google’s plan would take wind power from today’s 20 gigawatts to 380 gigawatts; solar from a meager 1 GW to 250 GW; and geothermal from 2.4 GW to 80 GW.


60 percent of liquid fuels combusted each day by our cars and trucks are eliminated by Google’s electric-transportation future. By 2030, the small number of “traditional” cars will be getting a minimum of 45 mpg (European Union’s mandate by 2012). But the majority of cars on the road will be plug-in hybrids or all electric.


Nuclear: Limited development due to high costs, waste disposal worries, and threat of nuclear materials falling into terrorist hands. A 15-percent increase to maintain steady, mostly carbon-free baseload power.



Picken’s Plan

Corporate raider, Swiftboater, hedge-fund tycoon, and would-be water baron T. Boone Pickens didn’t really become a dirty word in much of Texas until he started orchestrating a massive water grab, meeting with officials in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and elsewhere, in the hopes of selling billions of gallons out of the nation’s most rapidly depleting large aquifer, the Ogallala, to increasingly thirsty cities hundreds of miles away.

Though the Texas Legislature gave the billionaire the power of eminent domain to assemble the land rights he needed to start carving a pipeline between Roberts County and Dallas, strong public resistance (and lack of a committed buyer) iced Pickens’ lower-case plan. But you know what they say about idle hands.

Pickens, a believer in Peak Oil, the notion that the world’s oil reserves are — or soon will be — passing their peak reserves, bringing on energy-cost spikes and a mad scramble to find stable, reliable power sources to replace fossil fuels, raised his sights. Pickens reinvented himself as an energy patriot, spending tens of millions of his own money promoting a clarion call for “energy independence” across the country. Picken’s Plan, as the billionaire’s prescription is now known, hinges on a massive deployment of wind turbines and natural-gas filling stations.

Conveniently, the state’s recent $5-billion commitment to expanding transmission lines to the Panhandle, where Pickens plans to install 2 gigawatts of wind power in what would become the nation’s largest wind farm, would mirror the not-quite-abandoned water pipeline right-of-way he was only recently amassing. While those first turbines would be arriving in 2010, a Pickens push on the California ballot this November — Prop 10 — would strip taxpayers of close to $10 billion, according to some estimates, to enlarge his already significant natural-gas business.



Crude tech

Natural gas has its day as domestic production is ramped up for nation’s transportation sector. But U.S. has only a fraction of global reserves. Most in Middle East and Eurasia.


Wind farms über alles: 100,000 wind turbines and 40,000 miles of transmission lines all in 10 years. Double points for job creation.


Takes natural gas out of the power-generation business and siphons it into transportation. Big curiosity of critics: Why swap one non-renewable resource for another? Also, major problems with notion that wind can replace natural-gas plants, which fire up quickly to meet rapid fluctuations in energy use. Try that on a no-breeze day.

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