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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Renewable Energy

Another round of attention to renewable energy — direct solar, wind, Geothermal, hydroelectric, wood and other seems to be getting underway. As long as oil is flowing in a non-crisis atmosphere, Congress, the White House and the media forget the old adage that “a stitch in time saves nine.”

How menu times consumer and renewable energy advocates have held press conferences and put out reports during the dreary decade of Reagan-Bush only to be ignored. Now their warnings are coming home.

The United States is more dependent on foreign oil than ten or twenty gears ago. This summer, half of the nation’s total oil consumption came from abroad. These imports sap our trade balance to the extent of $136 million per day.

Despite Washington’s virtual close down of the energy conservation and renewable energy programs, there has been substantial progress on both scores. Benfitting from the awareness, laws and programs started under Presidents Ford and Carter, the U.S. is saving over $150 billion a year. We are using the same amount of energy as we did in 1975, even though the economy has grown by about 30% in inflation-adjusted terms.

Still we are far behind Japan and West Germany which use only half as much energy per unit of gross national output as does the U.S. We have every capability to cut our energy consumption in half — through more efficient lighting, engines, industrial processing, transportation, cogeneration and the like.

Though little publicized, renewable energy has experienced considerable growth during the past decade. The equivalent output of 12 giant nuclear plants has come from new electrical generating capacity using wind, solar, biomass and geothermal resources. The cost of renewable energy technologies is dropping fast. Very shortly solar photovoltaic cells will become competitive. Solar water heaters are already competitive.

The most expensive electricity being produced today in the U.S. comes from the new Seabrook atomic energy plant in New Hampshire. Yet nuclear power, along with fossil fuels, has received huge federal subsidies and tax breaks over the years that are now denied renewable energy produces. Reagan abolished the solar tax credit in 1986.

So compelling are renewables that they now provide more energy than do the 114 nuclear reactors in the U.S. They provide the energy equivalent of one billion barrels of oil per year — about 40% of the oil the U.S. presently imports.

The European community and Japan are getting on the renewable bandwagon and already Germany, Italy and Japan each outspend the U.S. on photovoltaic, wind, and other renewable energy research.

Before Reagan came to Washington, the Department of Energy predicted that renewables could meet 80% of our energy needs by the year 2010 — twenty years from now. So what is Wasnington doing now — draining America first by pushing for more offshore oil drilling, pushing licensing of dangerous nuclear power plants, supporting the building of more air-poisoning incinerators, and refusing to press for tougher motor vehicle fuel energy standards after giving Detroit a ten year holiday from such engineering progress.

So troops are sent abroad to safeguard oil which we should not have to import. Washington spends big money and risks casualties to defend what the country is wasting in order that the Exxons, the Peabody Coal Co. and other nuclear and fossil fuel companies can sell more of their BTUs.

For the unmistakable obstacle to greater energy efficiency and energy renewables is that the former reduces the sales of the Exxons and the latter displaces the sales of the Exxons. That is what really is at the bottom of a do‑nothing government policy on making our country efficient and energy independent.