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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Future in Renewable Energy

Want to feel optimistic and have economics, technology, democracy and self-determination on your side? Well, in the area of energy supplies, physicist Amory Lovins, can demonstrate that the USA has already started to move from depletable or nonrenewable energy (oil, gas, coal, nuclear) to sustainable or renewable energy sources (hydro, wood and other plant materials, wind, sun’s rays, etc.). That trend, he says, is due to you and millions of other consumers.

Lovins became well known in the late Seventies through his writings, lectures, briefings to top political leaders and dramatic Congressional testimony. He is an omnivorous absorber of information and energy achievements. His addresses before utility executives have left them numb with fear over the energy efficiency utopia which he describes can be their future role if only they would prefer to avoid bankrupting the economy with their present centralized, expensive and destructive mariner of generating electricity.

With this background, here is a sample of his assertions:

  1. “Since 1979, the US has obtained more than a hundred times as much new energy from savings as from all expansions of energy supply combined.” Specifically, take all the expansion of coal, crude oil, natural gas and nuclear power and add them up for that period. Energy efficiency (e.g., a barrel of oil saved is a barrel of oil that does not have to be produced or bought) in those same years is a hundred times greater.
  2. “Since 1979, the US has obtained more new energy from renewable sources than from any or all of the nonrenewables.”
  3. “Since 1979, more new megawatts of electric generating capacity have been ordered in the form of small hydro and windpower than from coal or nuclear plants or both, without evencounting their cancellations.” But not by much, notes the wry Lovins.
  4. “The US is getting about twice as much delivered energy from wood as from nuclear power.” Lovins tells me this is a “conservative” estimate.
  5. “At least 64% of, the capital cost of a new nuclear reactor is socialized via tax subsidies.” Lovins based this finding on data from the industry’s own Electric Power Research Institute’s 1982 Technical Assessment Guide. The Institute did riot include decommissioning of the plant and excludes operating costs as well as subsidies like the Price-Anderson law, which limits the liability of nuclear plants in case of accidents, and taxpayer funded government research and development.

Numerous studies from government, academic and business sources, Lovins argues, “Confirm that efficiency and renewables can already provide more energy, faster, cheaper, than additional centralized, vulnerable sources. Just in 1980, Americans invested about $15 billion in efficiency and renewables…Weatherization, plugging steam leaks, buying more efficient cats, and millions of other individual decisions in the market have outpaced by better than a hundred to one all of the new oil and gas wells, coal mines, and power plants built in the same period–even though the centralized technologies got about six times as much investment and ten to twenty times as much government subsidy.”

Reflective of the hypocritical gap between saying and doing are the Reagan Administration’s energy policies. Mr. Reagan has chosen to back the centralized technologies (nuclear power, synthetic fuel projects) with huge amounts of taxpayer dollars, while almost shutting down the far less expensive research and promotional programs for energy conservation and solar power. He has chosen corporate socialism in energy instead of local, renewable energy development. He has chosen the atom over the sun with all the horrendous costs, security risks and hazardous legacies of atomic power for future generations of Americans. Why? Because that is the path that the large corporations want in order to pursue their profits and retain their control. When the Bechtel-Exxon croup speaks, Ronald Reagan really listens.

For the country’s sake, listen to Lovins: “By the end of this century, the United States could wring twice as much work out of its energy, and get at least a third of that energy from renewable sources. The nation could thus reduce its energy use by a fourth and its use of nonrenewable fuels by nearly half. This could occur even if the gross national product meanwhile increased by two-thirds…”

If readers wish to challenge Lovins’ figures or analyses, simply write to him, with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Drawer 248, Old Snowmass, Colorado, 81654. He’ll be pleased to respond.