Global warming, terrorism and U.S. military interventions abroad can all be traced in one way or another to energy consumption. Yet help is on the way.
National security and green energy technology came together during an upbeat keynote address by clean-energy guru Amory Lovins and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival on Saturday.
The speakers said optimistically that technology exists to allow concerned citizens to sidestep energy company lobbyists and governmental inertia to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy future.
“The barriers are more cultural than economic,” said Lovins, an author who has consulted major corporations and the Pentagon on U.S energy policy. He outlined a plan to wean the U.S. off of oil and coal by 2050, all while saving $5 trillion in the process. (A condensed version of his talk can be viewed online at HYPERLINK "http://www.ted.com/talks/amory_lovins_a_50_year_plan_for_energy.html" http://www.ted.com/talks/amory_lovins_a_50_year_plan_for_energy.html.)
Woolsey, a former Washington, D.C. attorney, served as director of the CIA from 1993-1995 and founded the United States Energy Security Council. He was introduced by Ketchum-based energy consultant Aimee Christensen.
“[Woolsey] spent years trying to spy on bad guys. Now he is trying to bankrupt them,” Christensen said to the audience of about 250.
Woolsey said the U.S. energy grid was developed during the 20th century “without a thought for security.” He called for a decentralized, or distributed, energy generation system that would be less vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Woolsey decried America’s reliance on OPEC oil-producing countries in the Middle East, Africa and South America, which he said would control half of the world’s wealth during a spike in oil prices similar to the one that occurred in 2008.
“Nine out of ten of the top oil-producing nations are ruled by dictatorial or autocratic regimes,” Woolsey said.
He expressed favor for Brazil’s automobile and oil industries, which allow consumers to purchase bio-fuels, gas or ethanol at the pump, thereby allowing a diversified transportation fuels market to develop according to consumer demand. He said fitting American cars with these options would cost less than the cost of a seatbelt on each automobile.
Lovins, who founded the Rocky Mountain Institute energy-consulting think tank, said that electric automobiles made of ultra-light materials are poised to revolutionize the transportation industry. He said German automaker Volkswagen will soon roll out a sleek hybrid made of stronger-than-steel carbon fiber that will get 230 miles per gallon of gas.
Lovins cited a recent Financial Times article that reported that due to such increased efficiencies and alternative energy source development, the once feared possibility of “peak oil” supply has now shifted to a discussion about possible peak oil demand.
“Oil is getting uncompetitive at low prices even before it is getting unavailable at high prices,” Lovins said.
Lovins said technology is getting cheaper to rebuild homes and businesses to be more energy-efficient. He said his firm retrofitted the Empire State Building in Manhattan in 2010 with “integrated design” options such as windows that pass light, but deflect heat, and more efficient lighting and office equipment. The changes saved two-fifths of the building’s energy costs, enough to pay back the multi-million-dollar retrofit costs within three years, he said.
Lovins has long espoused innovative building design technology. He lives in Old Snowmass, Colorado, in a home he retrofitted back in 1984 to reduce his household energy consumption by 95 percent.
Although his area endures long periods of subzero temperatures and overcast skies, Lovins showed pictures of large bunches of bananas growing in his atrium living room in February.
Lovins said what he has achieved in Old Snowmass has become less expensive around the world, due to lower production costs for wind and solar power technologies, a trend that he said is likely to continue. He said countries in Europe are geared up to more easily take advantage of this.
Lovins said Portugal got 45 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources last year and expects to get 70 percent this year, “because it was very windy and sunny.”
“Germany now has more solar workers than the United States has steel workers,” he said.
Woolsey said he supports the development of smaller, inter-connected and distributed energy systems across the U.S., rather than the conventional systems that instead rely upon large centralized utility companies. But he and Lovins stressed the point that government agencies and energy company lobbyists, focused on maintaining the status quo, could hinder progress on the changes they foresee.
“The 3,500 utility companies in the U.S. spend less each year on research and development than the dog-food industry,” Woolsey said.
The speakers said individuals and entrepreneurs should instead lead the change.
- In a related story, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission is set to rule on July 1 in a dispute between Idaho Power Co. and customers who engage in “net-metering,” which requires the utility company to buy back excess electricity from home generation, mostly from solar cells.
The number of net-metering customers in Idaho grew from two in 2002 to 353 today, indicating rapid growth in this form of distributed energy generation.
Idaho Power has proposed increasing the capacity for net-metering generation from 2.9 megawatts to 5.8 megawatts, while quadrupling the costs for net-metering customers.
According to a news release issued by the Idaho PUC, Idaho Power proposes to increase the monthly service charge for residential net-metering customers from $5 to $20.92 and from $4 to $22.49 for small businesses, to pay for transmission and distribution costs.
“The case has already generated hundreds of comments to the PUC,” the news release states. “Many claiming the changes proposed by Idaho Power will make it difficult, if not impossible, for net-metering customers to recoup their investment, most in solar panels.”
A technical hearing on the issue will be held at 9:30 a.m. on June 11 in the PUC hearing room at 472 W. Washington St. in Boise. A public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. at the same location.
Customers can also phone in to listen and/or testify to 1-800-920-7487. For more information go to HYPERLINK "http://www.puc.idaho.gov" www.puc.idaho.gov.
Tony Evans: HYPERLINK "mailto:email@example.com" firstname.lastname@example.org