Independent Institute Proposes Solutions, Including Distributed Grids, Scrapping Tax Breaks, Mandating Tighter Vehicle Safety and Mileage Standards Simultaneously.
Fifty percent carbon dioxide emissions cut possible by 2040 Takoma Park, Maryland: An independent research institute says that the proposed U.S. energy blueprint, introduced by the White House in May, and largely adopted last week by the U.S. House of Representatives, is scientifically flawed, economically inefficient, and proliferation prone. The Bush Administration’s “National Energy Policy,” also known as the Cheney Plan, was developed by a task force led by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. In an advance copy of an article that will be published in the organization’s newsletter, Science for Democratic Action, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) criticizes several aspects of the Cheney Plan, and suggests solutions. The IEER critique of the Cheney plan is available on-line at http://www.ieer.org/comments/energy/chny-art.html .
“The efficiency of energy use in the United States is still appallingly low, despite some improvement over the past 25 years,” said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of IEER, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland, which has published many studies on energy, nuclear, and environmental issues. “The plan is scientifically unsound and pays no attention to fundamental energy system issues. We think we are living in a high-tech society,” said Makhijani. “Yet the efficiency of the major parts of the energy system, measured by strict physics criteria, is appallingly low, often in the one to ten percent range. ” One of IEER’s recommendations is that the federal government should establish a standing committee of the National Academy of Sciences that would report to the country each year on the state of the energy system, including changes in its efficiency, reliability, and sustainability.
For instance, the Cheney Plan (available on-line at www.whitehouse.gov/energy) discusses the many advantages of distributed electricity generation which consists of small-scale power generation at locations at or near electricity consumers in contrast to central power stations, which are often hundreds or thousands of miles away. Decentralized power units can be connected to the grid, to create a more reliable system for consumers and a more efficient system overall. The resulting grid, called a “distributed grid,” will have lower transmission losses and permit higher efficiency systems, such as cogeneration of heat and electricity to be used in more locations. Yet the Cheney plan does not propose to remove the many institutional and industry barriers to distributed grids. It does not even cite an excellent government study published just one year ago on the subject. Instead of distributed grids, the Cheney Plan advocates a national energy grid. “A national grid would mainly serve the interests of large energy traders and generators, like Enron and Duke Energy,” said Makhijani, “but it would make the electricity system more cumbersome and possibly less reliable. It would also increase transmission losses compared to a distributed grid.” IEER contends that the present energy production and consumption pattern is environmentally and politically unsustainable. For instance, IEER estimates that if the use of oil continues to grow at the current rate of just above one percent per year, “the United States will be importing about three-fourths of its oil in twenty years, even if the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is opened up.”
Dr. Makhijani noted that “Neither the Cheney plan nor the House bill even mention the Kyoto Protocol,” the international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which the United States has signed but which the Bush administration has rejected. Meanwhile, the Administration is under pressure from Europe and now a U.S. Senate committee to come up with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take part in international negotiations on global warming. Of the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is the biggest contributor to global warming and it is the main gas emitted when oil and coal are burned. The U.S. is responsible for about 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to the IEER paper, the world will need to make a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions to make a real dent in the global warming problem. “The technology is basically already there to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent over the next forty years,” said Makhijani. “For instance, if the government mandated corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards equivalent to 100 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks combined by 2040, consumption of gasoline in the U.S. by that time would be reduced to less than half of today’s rate, even if automobile use doubles in terms of miles driven. This can and should be made compatible with safety.”
“Car makers seem to remember safety when the issue of mileage standards is raised and they seem to remember mileage when the issue of reducing emissions of noxious gases is raised,” said Makhijani. “In practice they have needed a government prod on safety, mileage, and emissions standards. All of them should be simultaneously mandated.” An Audi giving 100 miles per gallon on diesel has recently been demonstrated in Germany and gasoline cars getting over 60 miles per gallon are currently commercially available in the U.S. In an unusual twist, IEER recommends that there be no tax breaks or subsidies for energy supply or efficiency. “Tax breaks and subsidies simply lock in high costs. It is unfortunate that they have been the traditional policy vehicle of choice for renewables and efficiency,” said Makhijani. Instead of tax breaks and subsidies, IEER recommends that the government institute a purchasing program to bring efficient technologies, like hybrid cars, and renewable energy sources to the market, dedicating $5 billion per year for federal purchases and a similar sum for state and local government purchases of renewable energy, efficient vehicles, and advanced energy conversion technologies, like fuel cells. “This may look like far more money than the House has allocated for tax breaks and subsidies, but it is not. The net expenditure will be far lower that $10 billion per year, since the government will be eventually reduce its energy costs by billions of dollars a year,” said Makhijani.
Nuclear energy and especially reprocessing are poor energy choices since they do not meet sustainability criteria, according to IEER. “There is no such thing as an inherently safe reactor,” said Makhijani. “And it is unfortunate that the Bush administration proposes to abandon a quarter century of non-proliferation policy in regard to reprocessing and of caution in regard to new reactors when safer options are available.” IEER advocates a far more efficient energy system in which natural gas would be the major
transition fuel. The IEER plan recognizes that even with greater efficiency of natural gas use and elimination of venting worldwide, some new natural gas supplies will probably be needed in North America. IEER also advocates a large-scale wind energy initiative focused in the middle section of the country. Published data show that the wind energy potential of just 12 states far exceeds the entire U.S. electricity generation from all sources. IEER’s analysis of nuclear energy’s proliferation, safety, and waste management problems, along with other factors, have been discussed at length in IEER publications, many of which may be accessed via its web site at