The New Energy Crisis: Getting Government’s Attention for Renewables

Remember when the “energy crisis” was the big political issue? Remember the long gas lines and the sudden surge in gasoline prices — once in the mid-’70s and once in the late ’70s? Remember the politicians demanding that our country strive for energy independence, so that we would no longer need to be reliant on oil imports?

Well, what happened? Today, the politicians in Washington don’t even have the energy question on their screen. Yet the United States now imports more than 50 percent of what the country uses. The Republicans in Congress are even moving to stop the Clinton administration from continuing its modest efforts to advance energy efficiency and use of renewable sources.

Despite the ubiquitousness of gas guzzling SUVs on the highway, the Senate voted 55-40 Sept. 15 to continue freezing motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards at 1985 levels. With the exception of a few stalwart senators and representatives, Congress is mired in the dark ages when it comes to rejecting rational, efficient, and environmentally benign energy policies.

So, after some progress from 1975 to 1985 in conservation — which saved the country about $150 billion a year — the Big Stall dominates.

None of this discourages Ken Bossong, who is probably the most persistent solar energy networker in the country. Working out of a small office in a Washington, D.C., suburb, his Sun Day Campaign puts out a monthly update on the activities of his sustainable energy coalition. I find it a solar mine of encouraging information about developments and reports around the country that receive very little news attention.

Some information from “Sun Day Campaign”:

Item: The giant accounting firm KPMG issues a report titled “Solar Energy: From Perennial Promise to Competitive Alternative,” which calculates that one large-scale solar photovoltaic factory producing five million solar panels a year could reduce the cost of solar power by 75 percent or more. This drop in cost would make solar photovoltaics cost-competitive for domestic consumers who receive electricity from polluting sources.

How much would such a large-scale P.V. factory cost? Around $660 million KPMG says. Or less than one-tenth of what is spent a year on dog and cat food in the United States?.

Item: Albert Gore has not made a single speech on the need to make a renewable energy policy preeminent in this country if we are to be energy independent, efficient, and nonpolluting. Yet in a little-noted speech, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta told the National Press Club Sept. 1 that “ultraclean fuel cells and cars that get 80 miles per gallon are well within our reach.”

Item: The U.S. wind industry set a record this last fiscal year by installing $1 billion worth of new generating equipment. Viewed by many energy experts as the new electricity-generating technology most frequently used, wind power now provides more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity a year, about the size of one large nuclear plant.

State laws in Iowa and Minnesota requiring modest amounts of renewable energy capacity have stimulated the wind electricity industry and the preparation of “wind velocity maps” all around the nation. Some day North Dakota’s chief commercial export may be wind power. An interactive map showing new projects nationwide is available at the Wind Project Database site.

Item: The number of U.S. consumers and small businesses using nonutility natural gas and electricity suppliers has doubled to three million since Jan. 1 and will increase by another third by the end of the year.

It is clear that there is interest in renewable energy throughout the country, despite the coal, oil, gas, and uranium lobbies egging on their Republican and some Democratic cronies to stop or slow the use of solar renewables.

Bossong is a public citizen laboring quietly in this crucial area, pushing for the use of more renewable energy sources. Neither the mass media nor the congressional majority is interested in energy subjects — that is until the next energy crisis. When that happens, they’ll want to start calling civic leaders like Bossong.

In case you don’t want to wait until then, you can write to him at 315 Circle Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912, call (301) 270-2258, or fax (301) 891-2866.

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