How many times have you heard it said that this nation has no comprehensive energy policy? Probably almost as often as you have heard Jimmy Carter and other political figures promise to give you one.
Well, it is important in this harsh winter of the energy industry’s content to summarize what has been learned, if not heeded, by the volumes of government hearings, studies and investigations since 1973.
First, our waste of all forms of energy in this country is so massive that a determined energy efficiency program could be our most immediate “new supply” of fuel and electricity. Numerous studies, both governmental and private, show that the U.S. could double the size of its economy without using any more energy per capita than today. At a recent conference of engineering specialists the projection was even more optimistic.
MATERIAL GATHERED by a National Academy of Sciences group portrayed scenarios of energy use during the year 2010 which were greatly lower than the projected forecasts by the utility companies. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory, whose findings on easily attainable energy efficiencies are too little publicized, has shown how readily homes could cut their natural gas consumption by almost 50 percent.
In a January, 1977 report the Laboratory reported that its engineers reduced “the electrical energy requirements of a typical 25-year-old frame office structure by nearly 65 percent” with “little or no effect on the comfort or working efficiency of the occupants.” “No major building modifications or equipment costs were involved” in the changes which resulted in savings of almost $24,000 in a year. The Laboratory declared that the results were “applicable to a large number of office buildings, schools, and other structures” used on a 40-hour a week schedule.
Second, the supply of oil, gas and coal in this country is enormous and enough for hundreds of years. It is not a question of supply but a question of price and profits, of monopolies and undue political influence. Existing prices for oil and gas are three to six times what they were in 1973 when the companies were making good profits. But the energy monopoloids still want more or they will continue their producers’ strike by withholding supplies from the market or investing overseas instead of at home.
Most of these energy supplies will never have to be used for combustion, if our economy becomes largely solar-powered in a few decades. But it should be reassuring, nevertheless, to know that Fortune magazine has reported on huge reserves of recoverable oil in already discovered and partially exploited wells. More recently, Fortune published an estimate of geopressurized natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico that ranged from 24,000 to 105,000 quadrillion BTUs. That is more than 1,000 to 4,000 times the natural gas we used last year.
Third, solar energy can come into use far faster than was believed possible three years ago. Not only is this true of solar heating but also solar generated electricity. Prof. Otto Smith, a distinguished electrical engineer at the University of California at Berkeley, is willing to defend against all challengers his meticulous design of a solar plant that is price competitive. No one has been able to refute his arguments or his practical designs.
These three verities can be buttressed by many other examples and data. But, important as they are, the central issue lies elsewhere — will the political leadership in the White House and in the Congress enact and implement an energy policy that advances consumer interests and diminishes the iron grip of the conglomerate energy giants?
JIMMY CARTER HAS said the right things. His priorities are energy efficiency, solar power and coal under strict pollution controls. He favors requiring the oil companies to divest themselves of control over other competing forms of energy such as coal, uranium and geothermal. He wants atomic energy to be a last resort. Now all he needs to show the people is the courage to resist the pressures of the oil and atomic industries by moving decisively toward these objectives.
Congress is another matter. Its leaders — Tip O’Neill in the House and Robert Byrd in the Senate — were not elevated on the basis of a substantive legislative program. These leaders are arbiters between conflicting forces; they are traffic police for legislation. They do not stand for legislative programs and they do not push for them. Their positions are increasingly expected to be procedural.
This situation leaves Congress without substantive leadership. For example, the proposed federal company to produce oil and gas found on the people’s federal lands and to prevent any future contrived shortages by the oil majors has many adherents in the Congress but no leaders.
There exists an historic opportunity looking for such leaders on Capitol Hill. Two who could put it together are Rep. Philip Burton, D—Calif. and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D—Mass.