Friday, August 31, 2007

Can we find consensus on energy?

I attended a community forum last night in Tucson hosted by Shell Oil Co. president John Hofmeister to discuss energy in America. Hofmeister, aided by a group of senior Shell managers, asked three formal questions then threw it open for discussion. Tucson was stop 41 on a planned 50 city tour over 18 months. They’ve been to Phoenix earlier and spent yesterday afternoon at UA meeting with researchers. [right- John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil]

The answers they got last night did not always respond to the questions they raised. Hofmeister at one point paraphrased Donald Rumsfeld, by saying that we operate the energy system we have, not the one we wish we had.

And that was the dichotomy I saw at the forum. Shell asked where we envisioned our energy mix would be in 10 years. People responded about where it should be (lots of renewables, strong opposition by a couple of vocal participants that it NOT include nuclear).

When Shell asked what they could do to increase domestic oil (and gas) production, some people were vociferous that oil production has peaked, we won’t find enough new production to meet growing demands, so we have to restructure the entire U.S. energy system away from fossil fuels. Others raised concerns about global warming, CO2, and political stability.

That was the underlying challenge – do we maintain and improve the current system and trillion dollar investment in energy infrastructure or throw it out to build an entirely new one in the next 10- 40 years? Those concerned about CO2 and environmental issues want the latter, but how realistic is that? America has not reached any kind of tipping point to fundamentally restructure our energy system.

Hofmeister ran through their numbers on what it would take to meet the IPCC’s 80% reduction of CO2 below 1990 levels by 2050: conversion of most coal power plants to gasification, all new plants using gasification, conversion of the entire U.S. automobile and truck population to E85 or hydrogen/electric, and a number of other huge changes. To make that kind of radical change will require a crash program and the costs will be staggering. It wasn’t stated explicitly but there is no evidence that the nation is even seriously considering such an undertaking.

There was consensus last night in Tucson that energy is a critical and complex issue, but I heard no consensus on solutions. I doubt there was consensus in most of the other 40 cities visited. Shell is posting the results of these town hall meetings at

No comments:

Post a Comment