By: Matt Guthrie[printfriendly]
The Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties hosted a mid-October event titled “The Future of Energy: Energy & the Environment” atop Ventura’s Crowne Plaza Beach Hotel. The event included a panel of representatives from a wide range of energy sectors including wind, solar, electric power generation and oil production, all whom fielded questions from Bruce Stenslie, Executive Director for the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County. Mr. Stenslie prefaced the panel discussion by stressing the importance of how reliable sources of energy translate into quality of life, affordability, jobs, tax revenue, and how we must remain innovative when it comes to managing our natural resources.
Energy is an important topic to our businesses, local economy and consumers across the board. There is no shortage of energy information that flows through our media sources and into the conversations of our business community and political circles. This was an opportunity for a few hundred community leaders from our area to hear from energy experts in an attempt to reveal a clear picture of where we stand and where we are headed.
The panel discussion focused on opportunities and challenges facing each sector as well as environmental impacts both now and into the future. One thing was made clear: the energy industry is evolving.
Panelist Erik Takayeshu, Director of Electric Systems Planning and Modernization for Southern California Edison, explained that SCE currently generates 1/5 of the power that serves customers through the grid, but policy decisions and emerging technology will impact the evolution of energy production and consumption. System infrastructure is aging and upgrades to the system, including replacement of poles, towers and cables, must continue to ensure reliable distribution of electrical power.
California’s aggressive environmental policies further impact the energy evolution, mandating requirements for how much energy must be drawn from renewable sources and where we cite generation facilities. Brightwave Energy CEO Paul Hullar, author of “Winning with AB 32”, reiterated the point that California’s environmental regulations are aggressive. While some will certainly capitalize on credits and offsets by cap and trade, the impacts of continuing energy regulation on ratepayers may create more losers and a lot less winners.
Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy have seen tremendous gains over the last few decades but still struggle with issues of reliability and affordability. Government subsidies, once a prevalent and popular funding source used to promote and prop up the renewable energy industry, are waning. Increasingly, the success of these emerging energy industries is being left to their own viability in the marketplace.
Jonathan Koehn, Director of Project Development for Infinity Wind Power, spoke to the challenges facing his industry in California. Not only is wind generated power limited by naturally occurring weather, the infrastructure it requires faces permitting issues and regulatory burdens in a place where both are relatively aggressive. In fact, these regulatory burdens and permitting obstacles are preventing the expansion of the technology in a state where the idea is very popular. Californians like the idea of “clean” renewable energy but often fail to consider the higher cost and land use needs. Cost of land, environmental regulations, infrastructure impediments, and natural limitations are all barriers that impact the viability of the industry. Mr. Koehn even admitted during the event that his company isn’t seeking to expand in California due to regulatory obstacles.
Solar power faces some of the same challenges but technological improvements show promise. While consumers are increasingly taking advantage of existing technology, issues of reliability, storage capability and cost effectiveness continue to be addressed. The increased life cycle of batteries and the transition to more efficient, lower maintenance lithium-ion, has helped boost the solar industry. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have revealed the Powerwall which are batteries designed to power individual households for sustained periods. This technology is currently too limited to be a solitary, sustainable source of power, but advancements show promise. In addition, issues like battery disposal and other environmental considerations of new technologies need to be considered.
In California, oil and gas continue to be the most consistent and plentiful sources of energy. More than 90% of California’s transportation fuels are petroleum based and we consume 40 million barrels of gasoline and 7.5 million gallons of diesel fuel every day. Currently, California produces roughly 40% of the oil it consumes. The rest is imported from outside the state, including millions of barrels arriving from overseas via cargo ships. This is important because California’s environmental regulations are some the toughest in the world. The process of oil and gas production here is cleaner than anywhere else.
Meeting California’s oil and gas needs with locally produced fuel reduces potential environmental impacts compared to fuel produced in places with far less oversight. When environmental groups protest local production, they encourage transport from less regulated regions. Since most of us rely on fossil fuels every day, this is counterproductive.
The event’s keynote speaker, Alex Epstein, drove the point home about fossil fuels. The author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, “The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels” sought to turn conventional wisdom on its head. In his presentation, Mr. Epstein laid out his moral standard: “Something is moral when we carefully take into account all the positives, negatives, and alternatives, and it is overall beneficial to human well-being: human survival, human flourishing, human progress.” This, he argues, is the basis for why fossil fuels are morally defensible. They have contributed far more to life expectancy, technological advancements and overall quality of life than any alternative.
Mr. Epstein describes what most of us refer to as “climate change”, as “climate danger” for the purposes of measuring the impact on humanity. He makes the case that over the past 100 years or so, human climate-related deaths have significantly decreased. His central theme is that fossil fuels don’t take a safe environment and make it more dangerous, it takes a dangerous climate and makes it far, far safer. He argues that removing fossil fuel production and consumption from the overall energy portfolio and relying solely on renewable sources would actually increase suffering and reduce our quality of life. Therefore, such a limitation would be immoral.
CoLAB supports an all-of-the-above energy strategy that recognizes and values our least expensive and most plentiful energy source. Fossil fuel production provides thousands of high paying jobs and delivers the least expensive, most efficient source of energy to consumers. Low cost energy is good for our economy and protects consumers from artificially inflated costs driven by short-sighted and ill-conceived policy decisions.
It is unnecessary and counter-productive for one energy industry to demonize another. All of the energy sources can benefit consumers and improve quality of life, and each has its environmental drawbacks. Technological advancements will continue and new ways to store and deliver energy will emerge. We need to be careful of picking winners and losers by penalizing any one industry. Let the market and cost considerations for ratepayers determine what direction we go and how quickly we get there. Consider how far we’ve come in just the last hundred years and what has powered our progress to this point. We need to support sensible energy policy and recognize the most cost effective way to meet our demands. California is the third largest consumer of fossil fuels behind China and the U.S. as a whole. It is smart, environmentally responsible policy to meet that demand by producing the energy we need right here at home.