Thursday, June 05, 2008

Liveblogging from Windpower 2008: Energy and National Security

The Tuesday morning panel was outstanding: Diverse opinions, common goals, wise thoughts. The following panelists addressed the question: What’s next in American energy policy?

  • John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress and former Bill Clinton Chief of Staff
  • Pat Wood III, Principal of Wood3 Resources and former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO
  • Jeff Goodell author of Big Coal

All panelists agreed that the issue of global warming has come a long way, but while American politicians are just coming around to supporting emissions cuts and the change to a cleantech system, foreign competitors have raced ahead: Japan and Germany are solar leaders and Europe has more wind power installed and better policies to support it.

In order for people to better understand the urgency of the issues, General Clark said, we have to connect the dots between cleantech, the price at the pump and national security. In other words, dependence on foreign imports and global warming. And both have foreign policy impacts: they affect U.S. relationships (our refusal to sign international agreements), enable potential adversaries (petrol dollars funding unfriendly regimes) and distort economic development abroad (China needs a lot of energy and will compete with us for it).

Pat Wood agreed, going on to explain his theory he calls “A tale of two Jihads.” The first “Jihad” is against petrol-totalitarians (transport fuels) and the second is against coal (power generation). Neither of these energy sources will be the future of our power supply. Instead, by 2100, Wood predicts wind, solar and nuclear to make up the electricity sector.

Jeff Goodell said that although we frequently hear we have 250 years of coal left in the ground, that number is based on decades-old studies and on current rates of consumption. But even besides all that, the easy coal is gone: what we have left to dig out is going to be far more expensive and environmentally harmful to get.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), he went on, “is often talked about as a no-brainer, like it’s a technology that’s just about ready for prime time. But I think there are a lot of questions about the economics of it and about the scalability of it.”

Clark disagreed that CCS pie-in-the-sky. “It’s a proven technology; they have a facility up in North Dakota. But just as we’re talking about all the details needed to make wind power work, there’s a million and one details to deal with CCS.”

The General is working and advising cleantech investment firms, and explained that while renewables like solar energy are great, “If you go to the Street, [wind] is a really hot sector. They want opportunities in this field.” But we also can’t think we can exclude certain industries in energy policy negotiations:

“There’s something for everyone…as long as we don’t let ourselves get too narrowly focused in the wind energy business, then I think we can bring others with us and get what we need.”

Podesta explained what the wind industry and wind advocates need to do:

“Energy is still a regional issue….what this [wind] industry needs to do in order to really make progress is to break through that and create a national movement to support clean energy. The states that have embraced – including coal producing states – a clean energy future have done so with great results. People who embrace the future and who embrace a clean technology approach to their economy are succeeding politically and succeeding economically.”

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