About America's Energy Future
The dual shocks of record-high energy prices and global recession have produced fertile ground for policymakers to radically reform America's energy policy. While many have called for increasing production of domestic oil and coal supplies, others have seen this as a unique opportunity to move beyond an energy policy dominated by fossil fuels. In July 2008, former Vice President Al Gore outlined the first step in this process when he called for America's electricity supply to be carbon-free in 10 years.
Proponents of the resolution claim that an end to carbon-based fuels is the only solution to avoiding worldwide economic and environmental catastrophe. With global fuel demands projected to increase, the world can no longer continue emitting such high levels of carbon dioxide or afford sending vast sums of money to unstable regions. Americans can also not afford to keep pace with the rise in energy prices. While initial price increases may occur, advocates contend that renewables could eventually provide energy at the equivalent of $1 per gallon.
Opponents of the resolution say this goal cannot be achieved without a drastic increase in the size and scope of government and its role in the private economy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 49% of the nation's electricity comes from coal and 20% from natural gas. Only 30% comes from carbon-free sources, but more than two thirds of that is nuclear power, which is often excluded from carbon-free proposals. The vast majority of renewable power comes from water, which is constrained geographically. In addition, renewables such as biofuels (which the World Bank estimates is responsible for up to 75% of the rise in world food prices) are quickly becoming a less viable option. This begs the question: how soon can we replace carbon-based fuels, and at what cost to the consumer?
Last winter, the House rejected a bill requiring 15% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Thus, even if this goal is technologically practical and economically feasible, proponents will have to generate the political will to commit to a carbon-free policy.