Stupid Answers to Serious Issues

February 9, 2009 - 9:09 AM
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On the quiz show “Jeopardy,” there is a category called “Stupid Answers” in which the answer is so obviously posed in the question, that it is virtually impossible to get it wrong.
 
Unfortunately, we are afflicted by too many stupid answers to very real issues and needs, the most fundamental of which is energy. At the very heart of our society and economy is the dependence upon and need for uninterrupted and increased energy, primarily electricity.
 
The answers we have been hearing are the worst possible. Over and over again we are told that the U.S. must become more dependent on “alternative, clean” energy, meaning solar and wind energy. These represent about 1% of all the energy the nation consumes at present. Neither comes close to the energy produced by coal which represents over 50% of all the electricity we consume daily. Nuclear produces an additional 20%.
 
The utility that serves much of New Jersey, my home State, Public Service Electric & Gas recently ran an advertisement headlined “Caution: Blackouts Ahead…” The ad said that “The experts responsible for maintaining reliability on our electric grid flatly predict that we are risking catastrophic power outages in New Jersey if we don’t upgrade our system.”
 
In the great national debate about the nation’s infrastructure, perhaps no other issue is of more importance, other than the way electricity is produced, than the way it is delivered. Those power lines are the very heart of the way our nation functions. PSE&G is ready to spend $750 million to upgrade its part of the grid, estimated to begin suffering overloads in 2012. Opposing those upgrades is a phalanx of environmental organizations and a regulatory approval process that borders on the insane.
 
In the meantime, the cost of solar energy credits in New Jersey has jumped to as much as $675 a megawatt-hour for 2009. The credits are paid to solar developers for the energy they produce over a year. The purpose is to boost solar energy production despite the fact that it is the least efficient and most costly way of providing electricity.
Take away the credits and the utilities could spend that money on expanding existing coal-fired and nuclear plant production. This is the classic stupid answer to a real need.
 
Within the energy industry, all of this is well known. Last August, writing for a leading website devoted to the industry, EnergyPlus.Net, Joseph Welch, the CEO of ITC Holdings Corporation, wrote that “the probability of a second devastating blackout is very likely,” recalling one that five years ago left 50 million Americans in the northeast and Midwest without electricity in the largest blackout in North American history.
 
A partial, but stupid answer was provided by the 2005 Energy Act requiring reliability standards for the transmission grid, while at the same time dispensing federal largess to solar, wind, biofuel, thermal, and other forms of energy of dubious value. In the meantime, as Welch points out, the growing energy demand “is expected to increase 30% by 2030.
 
The Obama administration’s energy advisors, cabinet secretaries, and others, including the President, are all on record as opposing coal-fired electricity generation. Many of the nation’s governors remain opposed to coal-fired plants. And America is home to the greatest deposits of coal to be found anywhere in the world.
 
Yet another stupid answer is the idiotic notion that we can “conserve” our way to energy independence. The prospect of a ban on the sale of incandescent light bulbs as a means to conserve electricity is as idiotic as it gets. Fluorescent bulbs all contain mercury and will require a Hazmat team to clean up the mess if you break one.
 
As my friend, Michael J. Economides, an editor of EnergyTribune.com, pointed out in mid-2008, “Energy cannot be generated from nothing,” adding that “The next four decades are good for a dozen recessions if it’s business as usual, or for a constant downturn, if American politicos actually apply what they have been saying.”
 
The smart answers to America’s energy needs include opening oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, on the nation’s vast continental offshore areas estimated to contain billions of barrels plus vast natural gas reserves. The smart answer is to begin yesterday to upgrade and expand our electrical grid system. The smart answer is to encourage the mining of our nation’s coal reserves. The smart answer is to build more coal-fired and nuclear plants.
 
Who opposes this? The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Defense Fund, to name just three organizations dedicated to destroying the nation’s economy and its ability to provide energy to its people. Who opposes this? Ask the new Secretaries of Energy, the Interior, and the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
The next time one of these people, including the President of the United States of America, claims that global warming requires that we all freeze in the dark, impeachment proceedings should begin immediately.