THE BLOG
06/01/2010 06:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Will Gusher Trauma Lead Us to National Energy Goals?

As the gusher in the Gulf continues to traumatize the nation, the 20,000 attendees at this year's largest wind energy conference called WINDPOWER just held in Dallas, felt anguish about the need for national renewable energy standard (RES).

The industry is experiencing a drop in the construction of wind projects (from last year's record breaking strides). This will bring direct job losses and thin the arrival of new components makers. Industry and its allies are calling for a national RES, as well as and enduring production tax credit and streamlined rules for transmission, to support a robust American wind industry that will shield rate payers from fuel price spikes as well as power plug-in vehicles to offset our oil dependence now running amok in the Gulf.

Yes, even in Texas, home to some the nation's richest history for oil drilling, Pat Wood, former Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and member of the National Petroleum Council, admitted that the longer the gusher goes, the greater the chance that tax credits to big oil will get plugged.

And that means the nation is getting ready to embrace big change.

Addressing a packed arena, Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota described a double standard in energy policy: over a century of tax credits have been there for oil and gas development, with awesome success as the result, while the production tax credit for wind has proceeded with a stutter step.

The attitude was, in Dorgan's words, "Real men dig and drill, and you dreamers with wind and solar, you get a pat on the head." Instead of capricious approval, Dorgan called for national goals of at least 20% renewable energy by 2025.

Dorgan emphasized that this nation needs a plan, a goal.

Oh right -- goals! Those things that keep you from being swept into others' agendas! And for lack of them, here we are, the most powerful nation in history kneeling to big corporations deemed to be "persons" and feudal societies made into tough guys by their oil exports.

We are bent prone over the proverbial barrel of oil. And the Bush-Cheney Administration, with their unending talk about "liberty," helped to put us in this fix. Ironically, WINDPOWER's keynote speaker was none other than former president George W. Bush, invited due to his being the governor who signed Texas' RES that has led that state to be the world's sixth largest producer of wind power. To him our number one threat was not our own runaway consumption of fossil fuels but those "evil doers" around the world, as if they weren't funded by our vast oil consumption. Nor did he mention Dick Cheney who, according to Robert F Kennedy Jr., reconfigured Minerals Management Service in 2003 to where it no longer required the low-cost acoustical switches on deep sea drilling rigs that are required in other deep sea drilling nations like Brazil and Norway. And the lack of that switch had everything to do with our southern shores being invaded by a toxic substance.

With friends like Dick Cheney in our government, who needs enemies like bin Laden?

To get out of this humiliation, we need to adopt a pioneering spirit that sees our vast landscapes at home as something to be mapped with new purpose. And that means committing to large scale renewable power as well as transmission lines, another theme of the conference.

The nation needs a stout network of high voltage power lines to connect its rich sun and wind energy resources to population centers. But according to Dorgan, since 2000 our nation has sited up to 11,000 miles of natural gas pipeline but only 668 miles of high voltage transmission. The asymmetry is due to the lack of durable clean energy policies which would firm up investor commitments on projects... and then there's a teeny problem with people not liking transmission lines, even though they are necessary for a sound grid carrying energy of any type.

Colorado, with its high renewable energy standard of 30 percent by 2030, is one of many areas facing the tension between building transmission and reaching a real goal for clean energy. And at the conference, Governor Ritter admitted that transmission could impact our progress toward our goal.

In Colorado, two major arteries for routing clean energy to the Front Range seem to be stalled. On one transmission project tapping wind from southeast Wyoming, Xcel Energy chose to reject 1000 megawatts of proposals, preferring the wind of the eastern edge of Colorado for its trait of blowing more during the day. Xcel's choice is not wholly objectionable as Colorado is already sending enough energy dollars out to of state, by way of our unreasonable coal commitments.

However, the wind transmission line needs to get built, particularly as another Xcel transmission project (shared with Tri-State) is also blocked. A 235 kilovolt line to connect the rich concentrating solar power potential of the San Luis Valley is hung up by some land holders, and one ranch is so big it envelopes three fourteeners. The rancher has reasonable objections, but the utilities' aims are quite advantageous for Colorado, and the commissioners of all related counties also favor the line as proposed by Xcel.

Ritter nonetheless expressed confidence that Colorado could reach its renewable energy goals in spite of these transmission standoffs. That's a lot of confidence, and his view deserves scrutiny. But his bold faith is important, and he brought it to Congress to testify for the value of a national RES, with his conviction that clean tech is the sector in Colorado's economy that's done best through the recent downturn. Twenty-six states have joined Ritter to tell Congress of the need for an RES; this is a battle plan to save jobs and build more jobs, as the group is joined by Governor Strickland of Ohio, the coal reliant industrial giant. That's a bellwether.

But for the moment, our nation's thoughts are transfixed on a hole at the bottom of the ocean and the Bush Administration's regulatory fiasco, which helped BP, in its greed, to blow open this volcano of oil. Too much of our energy policy is like that hole -- gushing with risk. We need to look skyward for our energy sources, and set high national goals. Ask your Senator for an RES now.