John Hofmeister, the former President of Shell Oil, and the founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, isn’t one to mince words. At the Cleantech Investor Summit on Wednesday he said he thinks the U.S. is going about energy policy “planlessly,” due to its two and four year political cycles, and he called the stimulus package’s $80 billion or so in funding for green technology “a frittering number.”
We’ve had eight Presidents since Richard Nixon promoting energy independence, and 19 congresses have supported each president’s intentions to achieve energy independence, said Hofmeister (The Daily Show made the same argument in this hilarious clip). But we are more dependent on foreign sourced energy now then when we started this conversation in 1973 on the heels of the first oil embargo, he said. While we have 2-year and 4-year mental models for how public policy should be organized and presented, the reality is that “energy extends over decades. It’s a critical problem,” said Hofmeister.
For example, just look at the recent decision of solar manufacturer Evergreen Solar to move its manufacturing to China, pointed out Hofmeister. Evergreen had been building a tax payer-subsidized manufacturing plant in Massachusetts, with an allocated $58 million aid package, until it decided to move its plant plans to China because of cheaper labor costs. The state reportedly invested $31 million directly in Evergreen and hopes to ‘clawback’ about $13 million of that, reports the Boston Herald. Hofmeister said that the U.S.’s short term policy led to Evergreen leaving for China because China’s policies are “more predictable, more understood and more supported.”
The U.S. needs a long term plan that looks at the short, medium and long term, said Hofmeister, and if it’s not it’s just “wishing into the wind.” And actually Hofmeister does have a suggestion for a solution for a long term plan that he thinks will help with the U.S. 2 and 4-year political cycles. Hofmeister wants the creation of an Energy Resources Board, that would be an independent regulatory commission and would set the parameters of the energy supply system over the next 50 years.
In terms of the stimulus package, Hofmeister said the $80 billion for green energy was “brilliant, and execution was good,” but that for the world’s largest economy with the oldest energy infrastructure, that’s a “frittering number,” which is “directional,” but “not material.”
However we solve the problem, Hofemister pointed out that we need to remember the sheer economics and volumes of the dependence on fossil fuels in the U.S.:
- The U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of crude oil to get through the day.
- That’s the consumption of 10,000 gallons of oil a second to get through the day.
- The U.S. uses 60 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.
- If we stack the cubic feet of natural gas on top of each other we’d go to the moon and back 25 times every day.
- We use 1200 train car loads of coal every hour.
- That’s one train car load of coal every three seconds, producing 49 percent of our electrons every day.
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