Command energy options can't be called sustainable

Jan. 29, 2005
Innovative energy options can only suffer from association with command strategies that are destined to fail.

Bob Tippee

Innovative energy options can only suffer from association with command strategies that are destined to fail.

A common strategy of that sort turned up again in connection with a Jan. 24 natural gas conference in the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The Sustainable Energy Coalition issued a statement regretting that only one of the items on the conference agenda, "diversification and conservation," embraced its policy goals.

Other items, like the one to which the coalition gave its assent, were eminently reasonable for an inquiry into problems in the US gas market: increasing domestic supply, LNG, infrastructure, the environment, and market data.

But the coalition wants the government to concentrate on conservation, renewable energy, and the rushed exclusion of fossil and nuclear energy. Hence its effort to distract the conference away from near-term, practicable ways to address immediate challenges and to make the occasion serve its wishful vision.

No one should be fooled. Renewable energy and conservation have roles to play in the dynamics of energy supply and demand. Their contributions will grow in the future, as they have in the past. But policies that emphasized those two elements of the energy market at the expense of all others, including buyer choice, would create distortion and multiply cost unacceptably.

The distortion is manifest in one of the coalition's goals: a national 20% renewable portfolio standard by 2020.

The renewable share of the energy market can't rise to anywhere near that threshold without overall demand-growth rates considerably below expectations for the next decade and a half. The coalition might find the sacrifice heartening. Because of the implicit and inescapable constraint on economic growth, however, most Americans wouldn't stand for it.

Energy solutions dependent on government fiats solve nothing. Affiliation with a political agenda suffused with central economic planning does neither renewable energy nor conservation any good.

What is more, energy mandated by governments but not substantiated by markets can in no way be considered sustainable.

Sustainability is an important and growing standard of energy policy-making. It gains nothing from attempts to make governments paramount in energy selection.

(Author's e-mail: [email protected])