I was keeping a tally sheet at last week’s Renewable Energy Finance Forum, so I could let readers know the issue that was brought up most often and granted the most overall prominence. The clear winner: China is eating our lunch in the migration to renewables. Inexplicably and tragically, the US is content to drop further and further behind in the development of energy technology with each passing week. While China is hiring, researching, developing, importing, exporting — and dominating the world of 21st Century energy, we seem to be content to argue and point fingers at each other.
As Winston Churchhill observed, “America will always do the right thing — after it has exhausted all other options.” But can anyone see this moving anytime soon — for any reason — least of all because it’s “the right thing?” None of the promises of renewable energy: jobs, national security, addressing concerns about peak oil and the climate issue — seem to motivate action on our part.
Perhaps the most visible proof of our nation’s abdication of technology leadership is the absence of a federal renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS). What are we to make of the fact that we seem to be a million miles from such a piece of legislation? Clearly, it’s the result of leaders’ pandering for votes, while scrupulously avoiding areas of controversy that might be used against them.
And now, with the recent Supreme Court decision enabling corporations to provide unlimited funding to anonymous entities that can, in turn, spend millions of campaign advertising dollars to defeat perceived enemies, our leaders need to be even more careful than they were when their enemies had to identify themselves and use their own money to slander opponents. This, of course, is another true disaster for those of us who care about free and fair elections and continue (foolishly?) to hold out hope for the effectiveness of the democratic process.
But enough about that. What about the federal RPS? Is there any hope that we can re-establish ourselves as the leader in energy technology? Here’s another tidbit from the conference: Adding nuclear power into the mix of renewables might provide the political muscle to pass a federal RPS. After all, it IS carbon-free. Proponents claim, “Nuclear energy presents a safe, clean, and inexpensive alternative to other methods of producing electricity. Nuclear waste can either be reprocessed or disposed of safely.”
But is any of this true? No. Do most renewable energy supporters believe that nuclear should be included in the list of clean energy technologies? Of course not. But who cares? In the 10-or-so years it takes to plan and permit the next nuclear reactor, the cost/benefit of photovoltaics, wind, concentrating solar power, geothermal, and biomass will have improved to such a point that nuclear will be completely irrelevant.
Go on; invite them to the party. Give them all the political support they’ve worked so long and hard to purchase. In the end, it won’t matter. Despite the rhetoric, you’ll never see another nuke deployed in the US.