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TOD: Steven Chu at the 2009 EIA Energy Conference

Gail Tverberg, The Oil Drum
As many of you know, I attended the EIA Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. I haven’t yet had time to write up anything on the conference, but there were others at the conference who have started writing up posts on the conference on their personal blogs, including Dave Summers (Heading Out) and Robert Rapier. Neal Rauhauser, founder of Stranded Wind Initiative, published a summary at Daily Kos.

In this post, I will provide Robert Rapier’s and Heading Out’s comments on Steven Chu’s speech in the plenary session.

First, comments from Robert Rapier:

I was quite looking forward to hearing from Energy Secretary Steven Chu, so I grabbed a seat up front. Chu started off by saying the DOE is the biggest source of science funding within the government, and that science and technology absolutely must solve the energy issue. The major thrust of his speech was that we must rein in carbon emissions to avoid a climate catastrophe, but he primarily focused on electricity. Chu correctly noted that imported oil has become a huge drain on the economy and that recessions typically follow oil price spikes, but there was otherwise scarce mention of liquid fuels. As Professor Summers points out in his summaries, the speech followed pretty closely a speech that Chu gave two years ago. In fact, he used quite a few of the same slides.

The first step that we need to take, according to Chu, is to make a big investment in energy efficiency. He would also like to double alternative energy production in 3 years, but again the talk was centered around electricity. Chu noted that solar PV will play a major – if not the major – role in energy 100 years from now. He also noted that we really need cheap solar cells with polymer backing. Of course most of our polymers are oil-derived, which is just another example of how we take for granted the role that cheap oil plays in enabling some of these renewable technologies.

(10 April 2009)

Obama’s Energy Experts

Dave Cohen, ASPO-USA
With Americans focused on a prolonged economic downturn, problems with the oil supply don’t appear as urgent as they did in the summer of 2008. We are prone to forget, however, how little Americans and their elected representatives know about energy regardless of whether the problem is on their doorstep or not.

A new survey The Energy Learning Curve published by pollster Daniel Yankelovich’s Public Agenda reveals that many, many Americans know next to nothing about energy. Finding #4 suffices to demonstrate this unsurprising conclusion, as shown in Figure 1 below.

I’m not going to bash the hoi polloi for their lack of knowledge about energy, which is a hard subject to understand, but I will dispute this opening statement by Public Agenda—

There may be some public policy decisions that can safely be left to the professionals: experts who spend their lives examining various issues. Energy isn’t one of them.

Energy issues touch almost every part of our lives, from the economy and the national security implications of our dependence on oil to the changes proposed to prevent and slow down global warming. And energy is too intertwined in daily life to change without public input. No other public issue is so dependent on personal conduct and public attitudes – and on no other issue do we have as far to go in bringing the public into the picture.

If energy is too important to be left to the professionals, and “on no other issue do we have as far to go in bringing the public into the picture,” then we clearly have a dilemma. If we wait until the public’s knowledge about energy approaches reality, we will all be toast because both the climate and oil depletion situations get worse with each passing year. Such phenomena can not be put on hold until everybody gets up to speed on the issues. Energy policy is like foreign policy and where oil is concerned, heavily tied to it—it is a domain requiring some special expertise.

…Stripper wells (< 15 barrels-per-day) account for about 18% of U.S. oil production. What would the effect of Obama’s proposed elimination of tax breaks for depletion and intangible drilling costs be on stripper well operators in places like White County, Illinois? It would wipe many of them out.

… The proposed changes would thus 1) affect mostly small independent operators, not Exxon Mobil; 2) shut-in a large share of 18% of U.S. oil production; 3) destroy many family incomes and local revenue streams; and 4) result in a loss of federal tax revenue according to Atkins’ analysis in Platts.
(9 April 2009)

US Department of Interior Moves to Speed Up Wind Energy

JoulesBurn, The Oil Drum
The U.S. Interior Department has recently released a report entitled “Survey of Available Data on OCS Resources and Identification of Data Gaps”. The report, commissioned by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and completed by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) branch of the department, outlines the energy resources available in the outer continental shelf (OCS) of the United States. Although the MMS is more well known for its role in auctioning off and granting permits for offshore oil and gas leases, the report is striking in that wind and wave energy potential receives top billing. The report (14 MB pdf) along with videos, podcasts, and presentation slides can be downloaded from the department’s web site.
(8 April 2009)

Show Us the Ball

Thomas Friedman, New York Times
I am really encouraged by President Obama’s commitment to clean energy and combating climate change. I just have three worries: whether he has the right policies, the right politics and the right official to sell his program to the country. Other than that, things look great!

Last week, House Democrats, with administration support, introduced a 600-page draft bill on energy and climate. At the center of it is a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through a complicated cap-and-trade system. These people have the very best of intentions, but I wish they would step back and ask again: Can cap-and-trade pass? Will it really work? And is it the best strategy, with all the bureaucracy it will require to monitor, auction emissions permits and manage the trading?

Advocates of cap-and-trade argue that it is preferable to a simple carbon tax because it fixes a national cap on carbon emissions and it “hides the ball” — it doesn’t use the word “tax” — even though it amounts to one. So it can get through Congress. That was true as long as no one thought cap-and-trade could ever pass, but now that it might under Mr. Obama, opponents are not playing hide the ball anymore.

… STRATEGY Since the opponents of cap-and-trade are going to pillory it as a tax anyway, why not go for the real thing — a simple, transparent, economy-wide carbon tax?

… MESSAGE Climate change is a real threat to a healthy planet Earth — the only home we have. But because the worst effects are in the future, many Americans have more immediate concerns. That is why our energy policy should be focused around “American renewal,” not mitigating climate change.

We need a price on carbon because it will stimulate massive innovation in the next great global industry — E.T. — energy technology. In a warming world with huge population growth, clean power systems are going to be in huge demand.
(7 April 2009)
David Roberts at Grist disagrees: Somebody hide Tom Friedman’s ball:

The only conceivable effect Friedman’s endorsement of an alternative bill can have is to divide support and distract attention from the best chance for a serious energy/climate bill in 30 years.

I agree with Friedman on this one:

Agree with him or not, it’s worth paying attention to Thomas Friedman because he has an intuitive grasp of the American psyche.

For example, I think he’s absolutely right about people being suspicious about the complexity of cap-and-trade. Yes, a carbon tax is prone to manipulation too, but cap-and-trade is much more so. The record from Europe is poor and I don’t have much confidence in Obama and the Democrats preventing manipulation here.

Keep in mind that the Zeitgeist is changing. A few years ago, the Market was God, the solutions to all our problems. Now, with the financial debacle, we are acutely aware of how markets are manipulated. The response of the Obama administation to the crisis has been disgraceful, a giveway of titanic proportions. This does not inspire trust in cap-and-trade.

I think what Friedman is picking up on, is that American attitudes are undergoing a sea change.