When members of Energize America panel went on stage with Gov. Bill Richardson at Las Vegas two years ago, we brought with us an ambitious twenty point plan to revise America's energy policy. Swinging for the fences, we called for policies that would create two million new "green collar" jobs and increase conservation. We also called for moves as radical as:
- 25% of Electrical Production from Renewables
- Reduce Greenhouse Gases by 50%
- Increase average fuel economy to 33mpg
And all of this was supposed to happen by the astonishing date of 2020.
It seemed like a solid, even aggressive, plan at the time. It certainly asked for more to be done than most other proposals on the table. In particular, that 25% of electrical production from renewables within fourteen years seemed like a lofty goal.
That was then. With the recent challenge set out by Vice President Gore, many things about that 2006 plan suddenly seem timid. Gore's proposal would have us power 100% of electrical grid from carbon neutral sources by 2018. Many voices have already been raised in support of Gore's plan, but predictably the defenders of the status quo are legion. It's funny how some of the same voices who are quick to point to the transition from whale oil to petroleum as a sign that technology will always be there to save us, are now screaming "not yet!"
Let's get this straight from the start. There's no question that Gore's plan is possible.
But the biggest advance of Gore's plan might be more psychological than physical. By setting such a lofty and laudable target, Gore draws both the screams of the naysayers and the minds of the general public in a way that a more timid plan would never achieve. The result is exactly what the first paragraphs of this post already show -- to make plans that previously seemed at the cutting edge, look like the dull side of the knife. In one speech, Al Gore has pushed the Overton Window of energy policy to the wall. Everything that's proposed now will be measured not against half-measures, but against that 100% goalpost at the end of the field.
That change is important, and it's made even more important because the GOP, after decades of giving tax breaks to oil companies "for exploration" are determined to blame Democrats for high gas prices. You know, because oil companies somehow couldn't do any exploration.
For Energize America, the combination means that we can (gleefully, joyfully) throw away some of those goals set in 2006. In their place we need steps that recognize both the new space that Gore's plan provides, and the constraints that still need to be shifted. Some new proposals were already presented at Netroots Nation for the rest we're going to need the kind of passion and involvement from our fellow Kossacks that created Energize America in the first place.
For candidates this fall, there is no way they can be less than fully engaged in this fight. 2008 is going to be a campaign that focuses on the economy, but in 2008 the economy is all about energy.
If you're interested in how some of the numbers break down...
In 2006, the United States generated a bit over 4,000 billion kilowatt/hours of electricity. Of that, only 2.3% came from a mixture of wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. 7.1% was generated from hydroelectric. So what most people would categorize as renewables was under 10%.
Another 19.3% came from nuclear. Add it in, and more than a quarter of our electrical power now comes from sources that are carbon free.
Which leaves a gargantuan, but not not impossible task, in picking up the rest. 49% of all our electricity came from coal. Another 20% from natural gas, and 1.5% from oil. Put it together and you've got close to 3,000 billion Megawatt/hours on the far from carbon neutral side.
Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? However, consider this bit of number crunching done back in 2004.
At the costs projected by Alpine Power Co, $87 billion would buy 192,904 windmills. The total resulting electricity production, again assuming each windmill can run one third of the time, would come to more than 1,015 billion kilowatt-hours per year. This amounts to about more than a quarter of all U.S. electricity consumption in 2000.
That's about 53 windmills a day for ten years, which hardly seems impossible across the whole country. Why $87 billion? Because that was the cost of the first special appropriation for the invasion of Iraq. How much have we spent (in dollars and lives) defending our access to oil since then?
And wind isn't alone. Solar cell production was up 50% from 2006 to 2007, and the cost per watt of output, which stood at $100 in 1975, is down to around $4 for traditional silicon cells. That price is expected to be cut in half over the next few months as new factories come on line. Thin film cells, like those produced from nanosolar, are expect to crack $1 a watt next year, making them price-competitive with coal.
And as Al says, for all of the above, the more we order the cheaper they get.