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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Think Ahead: Dump Coal, Invest In Renewables Now

I've argued that Rep. Herseth Sandlin is wrong on the American Clean Energy and Security Act and that Senators Johnson and Thune need to get on board with the cap-and-trade-plus bill and vote for the future. Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute agrees that staking even our immediate energy future on fossil fuels is short-sighted for big coal-dependent states like South Dakota and Iowa:

Everyone agrees that America has enormous quantities of coal underground. But how much of that coal can practically be mined? Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and National Academy of Science, among other organizations, suggest that supply problems may come much sooner than we have been led to think; indeed, one German analytic group has forecast that U.S. coal production will peak 20 years from now—well within the operating lifetime of power plants being built today.

Utilities might wish to wait until renewables are still more affordable before making the switch from old, familiar energy sources to ones that will require new infrastructure for generation, storage and transmission. But doing so entails more than higher climate impacts from the burning of carbon-rich coal. It also constitutes an enormous gamble: the utilities assume that when renewables become clearly the cheaper option, investments can be quickly mobilized to make the transition to wind, solar and geothermal. But with fossil fuel prices rising relentlessly in the meantime, will the economy then be resilient enough to summon the needed capital?

If America doesn't seriously begin the transition to renewable energy now, we may well get caught, not many years hence, with too little coal and not enough installed alternatives [Richard Heinberg, "Iowa's Future Shouldn't Depend on Fossil Fuels," Des Moines Register, 2009.09.02].

That's what I said!


  1. Two items would improve this bill. One, attack it from a micro level, install individual solar panels and wind turbines. Going large scale runs into the nimby (not in my backyard)problem. Two, encourage private investment by cutting capital gains tax to 5%.

  2. Add another item, Thad. How about International Support from around the world? The ecological problems we face will not be solved by one continent, although we can make changes that will help. We need China, Russia, Europe, South America and others to be on board before any of your ideas will have an impact. Where is that worldwide leadership?

  3. Well, Rod, I'll suggest that our current President is better positioned to win the cooperation of other countries than his predecessor.

    Thad: I'm all over the first suggestion; now you just need to get the big power utilities to support micro-level power generation.

  4. I personally believe that which ever country successfully develops renewable energy will be positioned to dominate the world economy for the next 50 years. Luckily for us, many of the up and comers (china, india) still believe that burning the cheap fuel is going to allow them to bring up their standards of living. They haven't yet realized that by the time they would catch up their cheap fuels will no longer be cheap and the developed countries will have converted to renewables and will speed back ahead. If China suddenly decided to heavy nuke/renewable we would have little chance of out pacing them.

    Though, if we don't push renewables they will catch up and pass us anyway.

  5. Whoa: acting first, taking on the challenge, showing the world how to do energy right? I think they call that... leadership. I hear America is good at that kind of thing.


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