Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A bad case of ADD

We Americans have a bad case of attention deficit disorder.

When it comes to the issue of renewable energy, we are currently so distracted by the economy that it seems we can think of nothing but our personal pocketbooks.

Our fears are so focused on keeping today's jobs and paying mortgages that future planning is going out the window.

It was just last spring when the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico leased by British Petroleum, exploded and killed 11 men and fouled coastal wetlands, birds and aquatic life.

It was two years ago that the nation elected President Obama, who set out to base part of the nation's economic recovery on expansion of renewable energy technologies.

It was almost three years ago that interest in reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil was at a near fever pitch, driven by gas prices that had reached all-time highs.

It was just nine years ago, a time surely within living memory, when tensions spiked between the U.S. and oil-producing nations that included Saudi Arabia, where economic disparities and religious zealotry spawned Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,500 people.

The New York Times reported this week that renewable power projects have been scuttled in many states in the past year and that the number of wind- and solar-generation projects proposed have dropped by 72 percent since 2009.

Some state utility commissions that review energy rate increases are balking at including renewable energy sources in rate bases because they are more expensive than energy generated by fossil fuels.

In Virginia, for example, regulators balked at wind power that would have increased the cost to ratepayers by a tiny fraction, 0.2 percent.

The price of natural gas has dropped with the recession-induced decline in demand and new technologies that may increase supplies, which compounds the problem.

The situation screams for a new kind of accounting that assigns costs to fossil fuels for oil-soaked coastlines, for the risks of war and economic collapse because of reliance on foreign oil supplies, for damage caused by climate change and for polluted water supplies that may be caused by chemicals used to drill for natural gas.

The accounting will be tricky, but just as parents factor in the cost vs. benefits of higher education for their children, the U.S. must plan to invest now for the far greater benefits to be reaped later.

Otherwise, our attention deficit in the present could become the foundation for our undoing.

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