“Energy Revolution”: Man the barricades, the fight is on

On energy policy, we need to change fast, or sink slowly

Governor Richardson, at a speech earlier today at a New America Foundation Energy Efficiency conference, laid out an energy concept worth paying attention to.

With an aggressive set of objectives based on five core principles, Richardson has

stake[d his] claim to being the next president, the Energy President, on the concept of a fast, comprehensive energy revolution in the United States.

He talked of paths forward, of benefits to accrue, and the criticality of Global Warming. He even touched a third rail — one meriting touching:

I am calling on the American people to join in together to sacrifice for the common good.

Richardson has set the bar high, where it should be. Straight off, from someone focused on energy and climate policies and challenges, he presented a powerful policy concept that merits being central in our discussions about America’s and the world’s future.

In his speech, Richardson laid out in general terms an energy policy based on five core principles with a “five-goal policy framework”.

First, the Principles:

Our energy policy solutions must fight global warming, which threatens human, ecological, and economic catastrophe literally everywhere on earth.

First out of the box, the focus is on Global Warming.  No hedging of words here, elsewhere Richardson notes that “common wisdom about the pace of climate change was wrong … we must move faster to avoid catastrophic consequences.”  This is not, people, a clarion call to change one incandescent lightbulb and sitting down to watch America’s Got Talent feeling satisfied that you’ve made your contribution to saving the Globe.

Our energy policy solutions must wean us from oil, because any oil addiction perverts our nation’s strategic objectives, limits our options, and costs us both blood and treasure.

And, key to this is oil, which has multiple implications, not just the pollution, but also economic, security and otherwise.

in meeting this challenge, we must support and help people, communities, industries, and small businesses who could be hurt by a careless transition – but are being terribly hurt by soaring prices today.

Transition is required and this could, if done poorly, hurt people. Thus, sensible policy will seek to ease the pain of moving to a different structure. But, Richardson is emphasizing, those people are already being hurt.
In many conversations about energy here, when ‘tax’ or such is raise, some comments scream ‘but this will hurt X’.  Richardson seems to seek to preempt that call.

market-oriented Democrat.  I want to set clear regulatory standards and systems and incentives, and allow the markets to respond.  

To be honest, I am a big believer in the market-place; that is, a ‘well-regulated market place’.  And, in the importance of stronger standards to provide a floor (constantly improving) floor for setting base performance around the economy. With an incentive structure that helps create an environment where the standards (energy efficiency, clean energy production, etc) can be strengthened on a

Finally, we must keep the U.S. at the forefront of science and technology development – exploring frontiers, finding solutions to our energy and climate challenges.

Okay, some might challenge whether the US is at the forefront, but those concerned with seeking to Energize America for a sustainable and prosperous energy future would agree on the import of resourcing US (and global) science and technology to improve on already existing solution paths and options — to increase our arsenal of silver BBs to tackle our energy and global warming challenges.

Now, as with all speeches, there were emphasis points. Coming from one of America’s top negotiators

These are my bedrock principles — they are not subject to negotiation.  

While I might quibble with these — quibble — these seem like five pretty good principles for driving US energy policy toward a better future.

But, what are Richardson’s goals?

1. a dramatic reduction in oil consumption by 2020.

He begins

The United States consumes about 21 million barrels of oil per day.  After Katrina, about 65% of this was imported.

By 2020, with hard work and the cooperation of Congress and the American people, we will reduce our oil dependence by at least 6 million barrels a day, probably 8 million, and possibly as much as 10 million.

These are pretty good targets.  Now, note that Richardson does not say ‘reductions from expected levels’ (e.g., reduced growth), but absolute reduction. That is serious, which actually would add millions of barrels more to the target if we are reducing not from ‘expected’ levels of 25+ million barrels of oil per day but today’s 21 million.

How to achieve  this aggressive target?

First, we need to get low- and zero-petroleum plug-in cars into the marketplace, while sharply reducing the carbon emissions from our electric sector.  This is the most important single step we can take in changing our oil consumption patterns for the future.  

By 2020, this change will reduce consumption by around 2 million barrels a day, with far larger reductions in the years after that.

Okay, this is big time important.  And Richardson noted that he supported PHEVs/EVs when Secretary of Energy.
And, well, he raises a critical reason why Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles / Electric Vehicles (PHEVs/EVs) are a critical interim (if not final) part of the path forward:

Plug-in cars don’t need a whole new refining and retailing infrastructure, like hydrogen, which has potential for the more distant future.  The infrastructure is there, in your wall sockets.

Now, Richardson didn’t take the time to point out that the Bush Administration abandoned the path forward toward hybrids and electric vehicles with their push for a hydrogen future (which simply kicked the can to the right in terms of getting off oil).
As for consumer acceptance for plugging in:

Most consumers will love the plug-in car.  As a consumer, you choose your fuel.  Gasoline at 3, maybe 4 dollars a gallon?  Or electricity, costing a dollar or two for a 100-mile charge?

Richardson stated that this will be a top priority and offers “the Big Three” the opportunity to be on top of the world again in automotive leadership.

As part of cutting fuel demand, he would increase fuel standards to 50 miles per gallon “will reduce … demand by as much 3 million barrels a day.”
Many here have already said variations of the words that follow:

What the Congress is considering right now, at thirty-five miles per gallon, marks progress after years of inaction – but we made better progress 30 years ago.

35 mpg is not a target, that would be a travesty of a band-aid claiming to do something. Well, 50 mpg: while I believe that we can (and probably should) exceed this, this is a target with meaning, that would have real impact.  

And, Richardson outlined several other oil saving concepts, such as 10% of supply from alternative fuels; smart growth; and public transportation.

This is an integrated, comprehensive approach to a tremendous national challenge.  It relies on American technology, patriotism, and cooperation.

Leadership that challenges, that challenges us to work together for a greater good?  Did I hear that correctly?  A call to patriotism that does not involved sending servicemen in harm’s way?  

In all, by 2020, with real presidential leadership and the support of Congress and the American people, we will sharply reduce oil demand by six, eight or even 10 million barrels a day.

The minimum target — 6 million barrels a day from today’s levels — that is pretty good.  That 10 million per day — now that is an objective worth setting (and, well, exceeding).

Richardson’s oil objectives are ambitious … achievable … aggressive … and, well, would help improve the nation and the globe on many levels.

2. Goal number two is new efficiencies and energy sources in the electrical sector.

This is important, a holistic approach to the problem — recognizing the value of both efficiency and renewable energy.
What are the paths forward?

a national renewable portfolio standard of 30% by 2020, rising to 50% by 2040.  As you know, a renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, requires a certain amount of renewable energy to be represented in the electricity sold to every consumer. I know this is extremely aggressive

How aggressive?  In January, Governor Richardson signed
New Mexico’s RPS which called for 20% by 2020 and New Mexico is already ahead of much of the nation.  Aggressive — achievable but aggressive. A 20% by 2020 would push the nation forward… 30%.  Okay, let’s be honest, I’m cheering in the aisles here.

Think about it, if this is put into stone and achieved, that 30% by 2020 would create such momentum that renewable power could hit 50+% by 2030 …

20% improvement in energy productivity by 2020.

The other side of the balance. Have to say that this is perhaps the least aggressive target so far.  A wonderful path forward but there is tremendous backlog in potential energy efficiency deployments that can be put into place at lower cost than new power production. Re Electricity, for example, let’s remember that California has remained relatively flat in terms of per capita electricity use over the past 30 years while the rest of the United States has grown by 60%. And, well, don’t fool yourself into thinking this occurred because Californians don’t have big screen TVs and lavish kitchens; they have smart policies that foster energy efficiency.

But, think about it. That 20% efficiency starts marrying up with that 30% RPS and we are starting to retire coal-fired electricity plants at an accelerating rate. That helps make goal three possible.

Goal three is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 20% by 2020, and 80% by 2040.

This is an energy speech, but Richardson did not abandon the reality that energy is a global issue as is, clearly, Global Warming.  He is calling for American to rejoin the world when it comes to climate issues.

We must show other nations that we will cooperate with them to hold atmospheric carbon dioxide levels under a safe, acceptable level.  

Now, I am not sure that I am in full agreement with the following approach. This is the Energy Geek/Policy Wonk discussion issue of whether a cap-and-trade system makes sense when so much of the problem is distributed.  

We will start with a market-based cap and trade system.  By 2020, utilities and industry will be allowed to emit 80% as much global warming pollution as they do today, and they will have to buy rights to do so, creating a real market for pollution reduction.  

It’s like musical chairs for carbon.  By 2050 there will be 90% fewer chairs.  

Well, if you didn’t get it, that was supposed to be a joke line. But, well, musical chairs is a reasonable analogy for cap & trade. First round, have one more chair than dancer, then have a chair for every player, then start taking the chairs away from the players. But, rather than a player per chair, they can figure out how to be thinner to share chairs (or to become very thin and sell chair space to those who don’t get thin enough, fast enough).

This target is tremendous.  That 90% is a target that will keep the planet habitable in a way we recognize a 100 years from now.  

But, in that Geek/Wonk space, I fear that cap-and-trade diverts too much money into legal and financial gamesmanship. And, it creates weird incentive paths that can actual lead to increased pollution in some cases. On the other hand, cap-and-trade could represent part of the solution path for capturing “large” emitters.

What is nice is that Richardson is setting what could be called ‘threshhold’ (minimum) targets and objective (better) targets.  Thus, when it comes to GHG

When these savings are combined with savings in
the transportation sector, I believe we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall by 30% or more by 2020.

This suggests that his full energy policy will merit investigation – transportation is not part of cap-and-trade? And, the cap-and-trade will reduce overall GHG by 20%? Okay, I’m a bit confused here …

One of the paths to enable sensible business change is to provide certainty about targets and objectives, with penalties for failures to meet and incentives to help along. This is, for example, how we have moved away from disasters in the ozone layer over the past 20 years.

My program allows time for businesses and utilities to prepare and adjust,

Important. Tell a company, a family, a community that, no matter what, they will face $X penalty for being energy wasteful, they will find paths to cut that energy use.  
Richardson sees the time as important to seek a solution of a major issue.

and provides time for the federal government to develop a regime for safe, long-term carbon disposal, or sequestration.  I believe that coal – carbon-clean coal – will play a role in our energy future, and that we must support the deployment of carbon-clean coal technologies here and around the world.

Carbon-clean coal … ahh … this is a Holy Grail … but, I fear, could be a chimera that enables coal to keep burning with the tantalizing promise for mass scale carbon-clean coal around the corner.  But, it is worth pursuing — just don’t put too many eggs in this basket …

Now, he directly attacks the issue of climate versus economy.

We can afford to protect the climate.  Given the risks of catastrophic climate change, we must afford it.  A small commitment could save incalculable amounts in preventing drought and natural disasters, famine and disease, and destruction of coastal areas and oceans.

And, well, it is isn’t that we ‘can afford’ but that, done right, we become ‘wealthier’ through our protection of the environment while we will be devastated, in every way, if we fail to.

fourth goal is to capitalize on our strengths in science and technology.

In some ways, perhaps, this was the most ho-hum part of the speech.  Okay, let’s turn to American ingenuity to set the path forward.  But, this is critical even if expected.

One thing to recognize — we, as a nation, have let our science and engineering communities atrophy too much (with a society that is too science illiterate), but these capacities are a renewable resource and Richardson is advocating renewing and exploiting this resource for the common good.

I believe we can create a national energy innovation trust fund with a one-time funding commitment, a fund that should provide needed research and technology support and that will sustain itself over time by helping the private sector deploy the best energy technologies.

A one-time trust fund. Okay, here again, I need to see the details.  Why not continuing (and increasing) investment and boosting of a domain so critical to our future in so many ways.

It is here, in science and technology, that we have the most potential to surprise ourselves with large gains reducing oil consumption and global warming emissions.  We must invest in our world-leading institutions and programs in science and technology.

This is true. And important. But, we should remember that we can affect tremendous change with existing concepts and existing technology. And, Richardson recognizes that … This is talking about investing to find even better ways and options for going foward. For finding ever more Silver BBs for the energy efficiency and renewable energy arsenal.

My fifth goal is to lead by example, making the United States a beacon of the new energy future.

Amen.  Leading by example …

We have become a lone wolf instead of the brave eagle, at least in the eyes of the world.  It is time for us to fly high again, to see the whole landscape, to be seen by the world, to represent freedom, and human rights.

Okay, the language might be forced but the vision isn’t …

As we implement these far-reaching policy changes at home, we must immediately return to the international negotiating table and support mandatory limits on global warming pollution, keeping atmospheric carbon below 450 parts per million.

We are at 380 right now … increasing by more than 2 per year … and accelerating … avoiding going above 450 will be hard … but it is critical to creating the chance to avoid truly catastrophic Global Warming.

Nations such as India and China are waiting to implement big changes in their energy policies because the United States hasn’t committed yet.  Yet they know climate protection is in everyone’s interest, including their own.

True. Yet, they believe — with great legitimacy — that they are being penalized for others actions. We must make them see how leapfrogging past carbon-polluting economic development is in their interest (financial and otherwise).
Richardson has a record dealing with difficult international situations and finding a path foward.

My international program will include working closely and bilaterally with fast-growing nations like China, Brazil, South Africa, and India so that they use new, low-carbon technologies to meet their fast-growing demand.  

To achieve this, I will cooperate with the European Union, the World Bank, the Asian partnership, agencies of the United Nations, and our allies around the world to help finance the small incremental cost of “doing it right.”

This last is important, a valuable recognition. A statement that we (the rich world) will help the developing world invest toward an energy efficient and renwable energy prosperity.

These principles … these goals … are a serious staking of real objectives that offer a real potential for achieving a sustainable energy future while minimizing Global Warming impacts.

Note that the speech on the Richardson website is not quite that which was given.  Reading the speech in the minutes before it was given, my key criticism was tech only: no societal change. Well, Richardson chose to touch one of American politic’s Third Rails, to mention sacrifice.

In the closing paragraphs of the speech, he added (my notes, near verbatim):

I am calling on the American people to join in together, to sacrifice for the common good.

He acknowledged, in his words, that this is viewed as Third Rail, dangerous words to say, but necessary.
Now, in an obvious reference to President Carter, Richardson downplayed the sacifice line, stating something like  “this won’t mean pulling out sweaters and turning down the thermostat”, but perhaps taking public transport at times. Not fully Kennedyesque … but a start. Thus, perhaps we could say he lightly touched rather than seized that Third Rail.

One of the three questions at the end of the speech focused on “sacrifice” and, it seemed, Richardson was glad to have the chance to expound.

In living rooms in Iowa, New Hampshire … I am hearing that … the American people want to hear that solutions won’t be easy, but that citizens will have a role in making those solutions reality.

Now, do people want to hear that solutions “won’t be easy” or simply that there is recognition that there is a difficult path to follow, but one that we can follow if we work together in something greater than any of us? That

We will call on citizens to be part of a national effort in their communities.  We’ll call on everyone to be part of this effort. And, that might mean giving up something …

“We will call on everyone to be part of this effort …”

To be part of an Energy Revolution …

To change the nation, the world toward a better path …

Governor Richardson, in this speech, is pushing the Overton Window.

To place this in context of this community, in some ways, Governor Richardson has made Energize America look timid. His stance will push our thinking about what is politically possible, making us revisit what we seek to achieve with our policy packaging.

With this speech, when it comes to Energy, Governor Richardson has now set the gold standard.  We will all be extremely well served if the next President strives for Platinum but this gold standard, this energy revolution, would  serve the nation and future well.

No matter what you think of Richardson (or an other candidate) on other issues, Richardson’s call for a an Energy Revolution is one that should send us — US — to the barricades.

This is a Revolution that must succeed.  

Failure will come a great peril for us/US — all.  

Success will create a path for a better tomorrow for us/US — all.


  • To be clear, I have not donated to, am not working for, and have not declared support for any Presidential candidate.

5 responses to ““Energy Revolution”: Man the barricades, the fight is on

  1. Sheesh! A politicians speech is bad enough but then add comments, too! Richarson should copy and paste this post and send it to a publisher to convert it into a book. Oh, and while he’s at it he should add the specifics, not these broad generalities. I’m not interested in “yet to be discovered” technologies. Or the other argument: they could do it but don’t want to. What can be done now? Today. In New Mexico? And why is the governor waiting?
    So A. Siegel does this mean you’re voting for Bill Richardson?

  2. George —

    A. Read the last note.

    B. Obviously, I like the speech and many of the concepts. I write / consider energy issues. What politicians (candidates for President) say can matter. Went to the conference for the energy efficiency, which I will likely write up as well, and heard the speech which, again, had a lot of good material in it.

    C. You feel I’m a Richardson cheerleader … if I see another candidate (either party) who gives a speech laying out concepts for energy that has such material, well, you’re likely to see (and get angry) at another write up.

    D. Re New Mexico — my understanding is that he’s put in place an RPS, attracted renewable energy, has been a leader in the Western Governors Association (along with, for example, Arnold (R-CA)) for renewables/energy efficiency/cooperative energy policy/Global Warming. But, why not check into it yourself?

  3. Doug Snodgrass

    While not polling in the rarefied air of a Clinton/Edwards/Giuliani/McCain/Obama/Romney (listing only the declared candidates here), Richardson is not an insignificant candidate. The sad fact is, significant candidates from both of the godzilla-sized parties are trying to be less clear in their positions at this stage. If any (D) or (R) candidate of significance expresses such a level of detail about energy policy, it’s absolutely newsworthy on the Ecotality Blog.

    George, I respectfully disagree with your assessment.

  4. OK, while I do like vigorous debate I do appreciate civility also. Both of you have shown that here. 🙂 I tried to read the whole thing and found it too long without the specifics necessary to hold my interest. Apparently, if the note at the end of the post was there when I encountered the post it just shows I gave up after awhile. Something that might have affected others as well and should be considered in the future. (Since I was the first to comment I thought it might have something to do with the length of the post. A minor, possibly insignificant point.)

    A. Siegel, I don’t think you are a Richardson cheerleader but I do think that the enthusiasm you show in the post is going to evaporate when it comes time to pull the lever. I have in the past mocked the public for demanding everyone else do something about GHG when they themselves can do something now. But it is not in their personal interest to do so. That’s why I “asked” if you were going to maintain your support for Bill Richardson despite being a 2nd tier candidate. That’s all.

    For all who support politicans who make broad and vague promises (but not about energy policy) do you believe what they say? What’s different now? All I want are specifics. Is that too much to ask?

  5. George —

    A. There have been no changes to the post. That comment was there to start.

    B. Richardson claims that more details are coming next week.

    C. I would pull the lever for this energy plan (or one more aggressive). And, in any event, this one probably would have a boosting effect on the economy due to energy efficiency, reduction in oil imports, boosting US technology sector, reduced health care costs, etc …

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