The most important panel I attended today at the Big Tent at the DNC revolved around the next energy policy of our future president. Talk about celebrity power: T. Boone Pickens was part of the panel and attendance in the Tent was the highest I’ve seen it all week. It was moderated by John Podesta, a former Clinton Chief of Staff. The third person on stage was Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.
In a nutshell, the Pickens plan doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t go far enough because his plan doesn’t address climate change in any meaningful way. It is an energy plan and one that could be described as transitory to 100% renewable. But he doesn’t present it as such. He presents it as the end game. If his plan, or something close to it, is the end game, climate change will effect us in ways we can’t imagine today. Read on if you want more details.
Yes, two parts of his plan deal with a wind corridor from Texas to Canada and a solar corridor from Texas to California. That’s a good thing. The third portion of his plan, however, advocates changing U.S. trucking fleets over from diesel to … diesel. The diesel would come from changing natural gas to diesel, but they would still run on diesel. That means we will still be utilizing fossil fuels for transportation. Unfortunately for his plan, natural gas is becoming increasingly difficult (read: expensive) to get out of the ground. Natural gas will become even more expensive if we convert national fleets of trucks to run on natural gas. One reason: the Pickens plan doesn’t guarantee domestic natural gas will be sold domestically. Like oil, it will go to the highest bidder. That’s what commodity traders do: sell for maximum profit. Pickens wants to switch expensive oil for expensive natural gas.
Pickens brought up the point that no battery today can power a fully loaded 18-wheeler, thus the thought of plug-ins for shipping shouldn’t even be considered. Way to be positive about American ingenuity! His plan rests on buying less foreign oil and using that money instead on his natural gas “plan”. The wind and solar infrastructure would then be paid for by taxpayers while energy corporations (and Pickens) would continue making profit off delivering that power. He did make sure to tell the audience that his plan wasn’t about making money because he’ll leave his estate to … somebody. I guess that’s good for Pickens. What about the citizens who would underwrite his project so he and others can continue to enrich themselves?
Carl Pope, to his credit, told Pickens to his face in front of the large group that his plan doesn’t go far enough. I completely agree with this assessment. Carl shared a 3-point plan that he feels would go further than Pickens’.
1) Repower America. All electricity should be delivered by renewable sources. It should be done fast and completely. He gave a target date of 2030 to achieve this. In contrast, Al Gore has proposed doing the same thing within the next 10 years. Shooting for Gore’s date should be the primary goal. It’s audacious but completely doable. And if we don’t meet it, that’s fine, there is still time to work toward the goal before the worst effects from climate change take hold. If we don’t meet Carl’s goal, we’re likely to already be out of time and we would be in real trouble.
2) Refuel America. Carl wants more options at the pumps we visit. He wants increased development of cellulosic biofuels. He wants to see electric sockets, E85, natural gas, and whatever else at every pump to give consumers maximum choice. This sounds nice on the face, but I’m not sure how viable it would be to implement. In a way, it works against the goal identified above. Transportation is a huge source of greenhouse gases. The sooner we eliminate that source, the faster we will be able to bring GHG concentrations back to reasonable levels. If we have 100% renewable electricity available, using that energy for transportation shouldn’t take too much more effort.
3) Rebuild America. 40% of CO2 emissions come from buildings. Toronto, Canada is working to retrofit every building in the city to reduce emissions by half within 10 years. Carl advocated that every city in America should work toward a similar goal. Carl also identified that Toronto is pulling a 20% return on the investments made, so it’s the clear opposite of a money losing proposition. Carl pointed out that it takes a functioning government to organize such a program and banks to finance it. If America decided to retrofit only 7% of existing buildings, nearly all of them would be retrofitted by the end of a President Obama’s second term. I like this portion of his plan a lot.
Pickens tries to come off as a folksy friend next door. He’s smooth and a good salesman. I absolutely have problems with someone who helped elect Republicans for years. Those Republicans have been hard at work setting records for threatened filibusters in one session of Congress, some of them dealing with renewable energy programs. T. Boone said his “contributions were history”. Well, his history is endangering our civilization. I’d like to see a little more recognition that he made a series of mistakes by supporting Republicans who have stymied renewable energy market penetration. If he’s not changing his ways, I do question his motives in pushing his grand plan on all of us.