Energy policy needed

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mark Twain once observed, "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it."

The humor lies in the fact that the weather is beyond anybody's power to do anything about (at least that was assumed in the 19th Century, before evidence of global warming).

The phrase that could replace it now is "Everybody talks about high fuel prices, but nobody does anything about it."

Most of us feel helpless to do anything about the soaring cost of energy. Individually we are helpless, but collectively we can do something about it.

As with any other commodity, the cost of oil is determined by supply and demand. OPEC nations have a great deal of control over supply.

Consumers may feel helpless to reduce demand but there are conservation measures that can be taken. They will be taken, even if it is a matter of being forced into it.

We can also increase use of alternative energy sources. Ethanol is becoming a more attractive fuel but it should be noted that ethanol production requires the use of substantial quantities of natural gas. Natural gas prices tend to increase when oil prices increase.

Although ethanol prices can be expected to increase, it probably won't be as much as the price increase in gasoline, improving ethanol's attractiveness as an additive or even as a primary fuel.

There are energy sources that could be even more effective in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, such as wind and solar. We should have a national policy of more fully developing alternatives to imported oil.

If there is an actual national energy policy, it escapes us as to what it is.

Remember the 2003 State of the Union address when President Bush got all excited about hydrogen as a potential cure for our energy dependency. We haven't heard much about that since. Somebody must have informed the president that it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than can be obtained from it.

Let's be both realistic and ambitious in moving away from dependence on oil imports.