Saturday, January 27, 2007

SOTU: Energy

(Cross-posted at Ezra's)

Shorter me: Meh. Nuthin new here.

This is the brief, relevant passage from Bush's address Tuesday. I've cut some out, but this is all the specifics:

It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. (Applause.) We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- (applause) -- using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it's not going to eliminate it. And so as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. (Applause.) And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Applause.)

Not really anything different from previous Bush speeches, but not a lot to object to here either -- aside from the fantasy of clean coal.

Plug-in hybrids: I'm a big, big fan. Probably the single most important change Americans could make to their transportation and electrical infrastructure, in terms of reducing oil use. A large, population-wide shift to mass transit would be better, but is unlikely in the near term.

Biofuels: As they currently stand, not really more sustainable than fossil fuels. Palm biodiesel and corn ethanol are extremely destructive, and don't really help as much with carbon emissions as some people think. The benefits on corn ethanol in particular are so marginal that it's impossible to say for sure that there's any benefit at all. That said, there are plenty of better options for producing ethanol and biodiesel (gasification and algae, respectively) that

Improving CAFE standards: A no-brainer. Fuel efficiency has, in fact, improved dramatically over the last 20 years, though most people wouldn't know it -- the advancements have all gone to making bigger trucks accelerate faster, not improving mileage. Even just halting the growth in the average weight of American cars, much less reversing the trend, would do wonders.

Expanding the SPR: I guess I'm agnostic on this count. If America manages to actually reduce petroleum consumption, there will be less need for the SPR, not more. So this seems to contradict Bush's previous statements (imagine that!) but I think people may be comforted by the ability of the US govt to flood the market when necessary.

As for the stuff I disliked in this speech, the heavy emphasis on coal in Bush's speeches and his policies continues to baffle me. Nobody's demonstrated that sequestration is safe or cheap. The "gold standard" of quote-unquote clean coal is the Integrated Gasification and Carbon Capture plant, where the coal is gasified, burned in a high-efficiency turbine, and the CO2 is stored underground. The problem with this is that sequestration of gaseous CO2 is a really, really iffy proposition. You don't know whether it will stay down there, and even if it does, it might poison groundwater.

And yes, I continue to believe that the high cost alone deserves to keep nuclear out of our plans for the foreseeable future.

Overall, it's gratifying to see the good ideas surrounding energy policy (plug-ins, biofuels, etc.) become so commonly-held that not even George W. Bush can deny them, but I'd prefer if he'd leave out the bad stuff.

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