Renewables, Oil and Security

From Colorado to Iran

Bill Opalka | Feb 22, 2012


The national security angle of renewable energy occasionally gains resonance and that nexus will be highlighted in a forum on February 27.

That seems apropos in the current news cycle, but saber-rattling in Iran and the attendant threat to oil supplies hasn’t seemed to move clean energy forward, but has only heightened the oil-first argument.

That bothers retired vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who also happens to head the American Council on Renewable Energy.

McGinn and Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti (Ret.) of the British Royal Navy will participate in a public forum on National Security & America’s Energy Future at Colorado State University (CSU) on Monday evening.

McGinn, who has traveled through the vulnerable Strait of Hormuz numerous times, understands the risk of economic damage a closure would cause.

“It’s just the latest in our fears about the disruption of supply and the cascading effects on our economy because of oil prices going up,” he said.

He wants renewables to be part of the conversation about diverse supplies, but the politicized debates in Washington seem to make fossil fuels and renewables an either-or proposition.

“Even though we have some additional supplies in the U.S. it’s not going to solve our problems in the long-term or the near-term, either,” McGinn said.

“One of the things I worry about is with the emphasis on domestic production of oil we’ll somehow feel complacent, that we’ll be able to do everything we need to do if we’re simply able to exploit our domestic sources,” he added.

A purpose of the Colorado event is to tie the perspectives together, by tying the national security components to economic development and cleaner energy sourcing.

“We need the kind of policy at the state and federal level that encourage the development of a much broader energy choices, whether for electricity production or transportation.”
McGinn said Colorado is a national leader, but the recent stalemate in Washington threatens that.

“We hope to continue the leadership discussion as Colorado has developed good policies and continued to make investments that encourage private sector investment in renewables,” he said. “I’m hoping that that chemistry continues, for Colorado to develop a diverse energy portfolio.”

McGinn hopes momentum over the past couple years that has stalled is not lost.
“If we can’t get over the politics, then we’re really squandering the opportunity to do what people in both parties say they want to do.”

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti is the U.K.’s Climate and Energy Security Envoy. Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (Ret.) is Vice Chair of CNA’s Military Advisory Board (CNA MAB), an elite panel of some of the nation’s highest-ranking retired admirals and generals who study issues critical to our national security. Reports by the CNA MAB were among the first to identify America’s over-dependence on fossil fuels as a national security threat - economically, military and diplomatically.

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No Mention of Nuclear

Everybody has their own version of what it means to "eat their peas". The cost of wind, solar and the storage technology required to displace conventional fossil fuel generation remains prohibitively high...especially since there is no commercialy viable bulk storage technology. There is nothing we can do now on the energy front to mitigate the effects of OPEC idiocy particularly that effecting safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz.

The start of a lucid enegy plan would have the US building nuclear plants near existing transmission corredors on a war-effort scale. Unfortunately, we've squandered much of the national treasure on boondoggles fostered by Big Green, Big Renewables and an "all things green at any price" initiative based on hokey "conseusus science".

If we could actually muster the national conscience toward nuclear power, the 100 years or so of natural gas reserves we have could then be diverted toward vehicles. Step 2 of "energy independence" might then be pushed far enough into the future to allow for the development of some new, creative resources....and perhaps battery technology will improve markedly.

The Cost of Secure Shipping

Indeed the national security angle is usually given short shrift.  We import more than half the oil we use and even if most of those imports come from friendly countries, the price is still determined in a world market that is subject to a number of security risks.  If shippers around the world had to pay for the security provided by the US military and paid for by US taxpayers, my guess is it would add  from $10 to $50 per barrel to the delivered cost of crude.  That never gets factored into the debate over the cost-effectiveness of electric vehicles, for example.

Politicians have also made the price of gasoline a political issue to be exploited for their own benefit.   I'm very mindful of the impact higher gasoline prices have on working families, but it's hard to be sympathetic in those cases where working families made poor choices and the folks they elected to govern all of us consistently opposed efforts to raise fuel economy standards.  This isn't a case of blaming the victim.  Instead, it's a metaphorical lesson about why eating your peas is the healthier choice.  We had plenty of warning about  our vulnerablity to oil prices more than 30 years ago and we chose not to heed it.  Now we get to pay the price.

Jack Ellis, Tahoe City, CA