U.S. Must Turn to Renewable Energy

Posted April 20, 2005 at 2:26pm

America’s energy networks and supply chains are staring in the face of a crisis. We know we rely on foreign sources for a vast majority of the nation’s fueling needs. We feel the cost of this dependency when we pay our heating bills or put gasoline in our cars.

Yet only when gasoline prices climb to new heights do we all begin to look around for alternatives. And this time it’s different from the typical up-and-down pattern of prices. Maxed-out global petroleum production, reduced production by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, political instability in oil-producing regions in the Middle East, and rapid increases in global demand lead

experts to believe declines are not expected soon. In fact, China’s demand for oil may exceed ours as early as 2020.

But with crisis comes opportunity. We believe now is a critical time to to help spread the word about the important role of renewable energy and energy efficiency in addressing this crisis and this opportunity.

Aided by the modest federal investment in renewable energy research and development in the past two decades and increased deployment, the costs of renewable energy technologies have dropped markedly.

While these technologies have become increasingly cost-competitive, the pace of their penetration into the market will be determined largely by government support for future research and development and incentives to deployment. That’s why we need to continue support for the Energy Department’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

We also need to continue support for the renewable energy production tax credit — a key driver for the growth of wind energy in this country.

The credit expires at the end of this year, but it needs to be extended to give investors the market certainty they need for investments in wind, geothermal and solar energy, biomass and bioenergy sources, small irrigation power and municipal solid waste. Each of these renewable energy sources is potentially an enormous energy resource, and almost every state has renewable energy potential.

It has long been understood that renewable energy sources can reduce air pollution and other environmental impacts from energy production and use. But it is increasingly clear that renewable energy can also benefit national security by reducing our reliance on oil imports.

It can also create hundreds of new domestic businesses, supporting thousands of American jobs and opening new international markets for American goods and services.

Energy efficiency must also play a central role in our nation’s energy policy. In this decade, an energy-technology or “Entech” economy utilizing energy efficient technologies for buildings, homes, transportation, power systems and industry could do for the United States what information technology did for the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Transportation presents one of the greatest challenges for the efficient use of energy.

Research programs like Freedom CAR and the Vehicle Technologies Program are advancing short- and long-term goals to transform our transportation system by developing emissions-free, less expensive and more reliable vehicles. An eventual transition to fuel cells could completely replace petroleum-fueled automobile combustion engines. Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles only emit water and heat, and the hydrogen feedstock can be found in any number of potential sources, including renewables.

As this technology becomes affordable and dependable, infrastructures that support hydrogen fuel cells will be developed and widely accessed. The marketplace has a tremendous appetite for the widely successful hybrid vehicles and advanced combustion technologies.

Hybrids and advanced engines demonstrate how government and private partnerships can work to control emissions and support the introduction of groundbreaking technologies into the marketplace.

Partnerships between the coal industry and government agencies are using technologies that will address inefficiencies for today and tomorrow.

The Clean Coal Power Initiative is currently developing advanced, coal-based power generation technologies that could successfully reduce pollutant levels of older coal-burning plants, keeping coal a substantial part of the nation’s energy mix.

Technologies that save energy in our homes and offices are directly related to proven research discoveries in generation and transmission. Space heating and cooling use 46 percent of all energy consumed in U.S. residential and business sites. Pioneering materials used in buildings, appliances and heating-cooling design construction could reduce almost all energy losses.

Obviously, both Democrats and Republicans understand that energy security should be a top national priority. Recently, advisers from previous administrations highlighted their concerns in a letter to President Bush.

We share these concerns. With gasoline prices hitting new highs every week and the summer travel season fast approaching, now is the time to act.

Energy security is homeland security. Energy security is essential to preserving our freedom and independence. We have the technology base to rapidly deploy systems that can secure our country’s future. The question for us in 2005 is, do we have the will to take the necessary steps to get there?

Our country faces many challenges on many fronts. If lawmakers are brutally honest about what crises are in the making, we should look no further than energy and know we must act soon.

Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) co-chair the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.