Interesting proposal for an energy plan in the WaPo this week. David Crane, head of NRG Energy, observed that while visionary energy plans are nice to ponder — take, for example, Al Gore's proposal to energize the entire country with 90-square-miles worth of solar panels in the Southwest desert — Americans want a practical energy plan that will work today.  That means reliable, affordable — and now more than ever, sustainable — energy resources.

Crane thinks he has a solution, one that can be adopted almost immediately.  His "progressive, pragmatic energy plan" focuses on regional energy solutions:

  1. The West (including Southern California) has plenty of sunlight, so electrify that region with solar energy from panels in the Sonoran Desert.
  2. Feed energy to the Midwest, including Chicago, with the abundant wind resources of the upper Great Plains states.
  3. The South doesn't have the steady sunlight or wind resources of the first two regions, but it has the political will and the infrastructure for nuclear power.
  4. The Northeast also doesn't have sufficient solar or wind resources, but the close proximity of the major urban areas could make it an excellent test region for the electric car.
  5. Pursue clean coal technology. Not only will it allow the U.S. to continue using its most abundant fuel source (my conclusion, not his), but the technology is critical to the global goal of reducing CO2 emissions as thousands of Chinese and Indian coal plants start coming on line.

The good news about Crane's plan is that it could be accomplished with today's technology. The bad news is, it will be difficult to achieve in today's political climate.

Take our renewable energy sources.  We can generate increasingly large amounts of electricity through solar and wind technology, but we've still got to overcome the regulatory and political hurdles to building new transmission lines to carry this energy long distances to urban areas. It can take years for renewable energy and electric power companies to work their way through the red tape and BANANA opponents in order to site a new transmission corridor.  And while Crane's nuclear proposal makes sense, it presently takes years to get the licensing and financing necessary to build new plants. (For example, Luminant Corp. applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build two nuclear plants in Somervell County, Texas, in September 2008.  It expects to receive its license to start construction in December 2012.)  As for clean coal, environmental groups like NRDC have mounted a campaign to block this solution.

Which just goes to show:  We have plenty of good ideas for a new energy sources in this country. But Americans may not have the poitical gumption to carry them out.


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