Achieving U.S. Energy Security Through Energy Diversity

author: Robert Malone, British Petroleum
published: June 29, 2011,   recorded: October 2008,   views: 2836

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“We’ve been spoiled as a nation,” says Bob Malone. For decades, energy was inexpensive and abundant, and most Americans took it for granted. Recently “we’ve seen the world change around us.” Successive presidential administrations have failed to free the nation of dependence on foreign oil, and to advance alternatives to fossil fuels. We must now, once and for all, shape a comprehensive national energy policy, Malone maintains.

With the dive in financial markets and general economic gloom, Malone worries that the public can’t focus clearly on energy. He reminds us that the fate of the U.S. economy is intricately bound up with energy costs, and that this year alone, “we’ll pay more than $400 billion for imported oil,” and that the U.S. has paid out $8 trillion for foreign oil since 1973. High energy costs today are choking the airline, trucking, and manufacturing industries, not to mention straining the public sector, as families spend much more to drive, and to heat, cool and light their homes.

While Malone’s BP is eagerly exploring new energy ventures, he notes that a grab-bag of well-meaning programs introduced by industry and state governments cannot produce the change required to transform our energy infrastructure. Malone advocates a deliberate, federally directed enterprise aimed at providing long-term energy security. Some steps he recommends: energy conservation, in the form of mass transportation, higher mileage cars and green buildings; exploration and recovery of offshore oil in areas currently off-limits; continued exploitation of coal (the U.S. has a 100-year supply, says Malone), on the assumption we’ll find some way to make it clean; and large-scale investment in wind, solar, and nuclear and next-generation biofuels.

To kickstart alternative energy, though, the U.S. needs a financial regulatory and physical infrastructure. For instance, BP owns and operates the largest North American solar panel facility, but can send what it produces only to Maryland and California, which provide subsidies. There’s no way industry can overcome technological hurdles and price constraints without government incentives in place. Pricing carbon appropriately will make energy conservation more attractive, and generate investment in renewables, he says. While the higher cost of carbon “will eventually find its way to the pump, monthly utility bills and to the grocery store, the revenue we’ll get from carbon taxes or sale of carbon credits … will be used to soften the impact on society from those higher prices, and we can use some of that money to reinvest in alternative forms of energy.”

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