Issue Position: Energy that is Safe, Secure and Affordable
Innovating to Solve Problems: Energy Policy
Near-Term Considerations and Long Term Solutions
Our growing dependence on energy from imported oil and natural gas has been an urgent but neglected problem for decades. Oil prices are heading for a record level - nearly $100 per barrel - and global warming is the most serious environmental challenge facing us today. However, neither our nation nor the world has developed adequate responses to the energy challenges of the future. In stark contrast, the Bush Administration has spent more money on the War in Iraq than has been spent on energy research during the entire history of our country.
Directing energy policy is a complex and broad subject, requiring substantial economic and technological input, as it will directly impact our economy and our environment. As a scientist and businessman, Bill Foster has the knowledge and experience we need to face the environmental and energy challenges of the 21st century.
The list of challenges is well known. We must aggressively combat climate change, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and promote cleaner and more economical sources of energy. In the near term we must do what we can, within the bounds of what is economically and technically feasible, to begin making progress. In the longer term, we must develop new energy technologies that have the best chance of succeeding in the market place so that we can address climate change. The responsible development of biofuels is an important issue for the Illinois 14th district. Worldwide cooperation is essential. In Congress, Bill will take a leading role on these issues and will use his technical background and experience to accomplish these goals.
Bill's position on global warming rests on three principles:
* The observed global warming is dangerous and real.
* At least half of the observed global warming is man-made, so action is imperative.
* It is our responsibility to fix this problem in the way that does the least damage to our plans for economic growth in the U.S. and throughout the world.
It is crucial that we get a more accurate scientific picture of the situation as soon as possible. If the global warming problem must be corrected within 10 years, this will be much more expensive to "fix" than if we have 70 years to correct the problem. Thus a high priority should be given to measuring and computer-modeling of the Earth's climate, so that the effects of corrective actions -- as well as the price of inaction -- can be properly understood.
The Allocation and Management of US Energy Resources and R&D
Members of Congress have their greatest impact on research through the federal budget, and on commercial development through incentives and mandates. In either case our limited dollars for energy research and development must be invested wisely. As a scientist with a keen eye for workable business practices, Bill Foster will be a leading voice in Congress for responsible investment of taxpayer dollars.
Redirecting government incentives: The high price of oil provides more than adequate incentive for exploration, drilling and advanced recovery techniques. Ultimately, however, we cannot drill our way out of the energy crisis. Thus it is time to end tax breaks for oil companies and subsidies for drilling, and instead invest in clean energy alternatives like solar power, deep-drilled geothermal power, wind energy, and sensible development of biofuels. Government can also encourage private firms to invest in promising fields of pre-competitive R&D by holding competitions and awarding "innovation prizes" to teams who produce new breakthroughs. It is important at all stages of development for congress to consider ultimate economic feasibility, since what works in the lab may not be practical on a larger scale.
Maintaining a skilled workforce and knowledge base: With the coming retirement of the Baby Boomer and "Sputnik" generation, energy sector professionals in the U.S. will be in critically short supply. We must make education and training in the scientific arena a priority and we must have a plan to address any shortfall in the government and private sector. This includes a hard look at policy on temporary work permits for highly skilled international professionals and additional public-private partnerships with industries that employ these workers.
Energy Conservation: Policies that make sense
Steps that Pay for Themselves: There are a large class of energy-efficiency improvements that can be made today and pay for themselves within a few years. Examples include better home insulation, replacement of old and inefficient long-haul commercial vehicles, and replacement of incandescent with fluorescent light bulbs. The reason these changes are not made are a combination of human nature, lack of time and information to make the right decisions, and day-to-day economic traps that people and businesses find themselves in.
Bill Foster believes that government has a role in helping people make the decisions that are best for themselves in the long run. This role includes: better consumer information on life-time costs, loans and other incentives to upgrade to energy-efficient insulation and lighting systems, and (as a last resort) mandatory efficiency standards for equipment.
For example, a long-haul trucker may be operating an inefficient older vehicle, but not have enough money (or credit) to buy a new one, even though the savings in diesel oil would pay for a new truck within a couple of years. In cases like this, a government backed loan to purchase a newer, efficient truck would result in energy savings for the country, more profits and income for the trucker, and eventually more tax revenue for government ñ a win-win-win scenario.
CAFE Standards: The existing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program should be significantly strengthened and incentives should be provided to U.S. auto industries and consumers to accelerate the deployment of advanced vehicle technologies. Given the vulnerable state of the U.S. auto industry, a thoughtful combination of policies and "tough love" should be implemented. We need more efficient cars and a more robust U.S. auto industry which preserves jobs and global competitiveness.
Promising Areas for Energy Research and Development
Evolving technological and political developments should cause us to continuously rebalance our investments in emerging technologies. Here are a few examples where increases are warranted:
Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Technologies for the capture and long-term storage of carbon dioxide emissions will be crucial if either: a) we choose to continue to burn our enormous supplies of coal, or: b) we cannot convince other countries to stop burning large amounts of coal and gas. If we continue to burn coal, we need a transition to more climate-friendly coal technologies that capture exhaust CO2 directly. In this case, an economically sound worldwide incentive program which advances coal systems with carbon capture and storage needs to be developed. If this fails and we are faced with removing excess CO2 produced by other countries, this should also include a hard look at out-of the box proposals such as reforestation and algae-bloom sequestration in the deep ocean.
Geothermal Energy Production: The potential for deep-drilled geothermal energy extraction is an exciting prospect that is scientifically valid but requires demonstration of engineering and economic feasibility. This has the potential to meet the energy needs of the U.S. for many thousands of years with very small environmental impact. The key technology - deep and accurate directional drilling -- has been developed during the last decades by the oil and gas industry. Congress should focus additional R&D spending in this area.
Thermo-Solar Energy Generation and Storage: A major problem with variable energy sources such as wind and solar power is that there is no efficient and inexpensive way to store the power for night-time or windless days. One exception to this is thermo-solar power, where the concentrated power of the sun is used to heat molten salts. The molten salts are then piped into storage tanks, where they can be stored for weeks or months and then used to boil water to run a steam turbine. This technology has already been proven in the field, and incremental improvements may make it the low-cost technology for electrical generation in many parts of the country.
Stabilization of Oil and Gas Prices
High and unpredictable prices for gasoline are likely to be painful fact of life for the foreseeable future. There are several things that can be done to minimize their impact:
* Ensure adequate refinery capacity exists in the U.S., ideally by expanding the capacities of existing refineries rather than creating new ones.
* Make sure there is a competitive market for gasoline between the refinery and the pump.
* Stabilize the Mideast so that the ìrisk premiumî we pay for oil ñ estimated to be in the range of 20% ñ will be minimized. The most important step here will be the election of a Democratic president competent in foreign policy.
* An early, public commitment by the U.S. towards getting a higher mileage fleet of vehicles in operation will limit the speculative rise in oil prices.
Establish a World-Wide Market Price for CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The free market does not naturally address the climate change issue, since venting of greenhouse gasses has been traditionally treated as free, whereas it is now clear that there are very real and large costs associated with it. To address this we must implement economic policies that reflect the true costs of venting CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.
We therefore need to implement a mandatory, market-based program to limit future greenhouse gas emissions which does minimal harm the U.S. economy. Such a program should be a long term, comprehensive approach that encourages the development and deployment of lower carbon technologies by a complementary package of technology policies and incentives.
Cap & Trade: Although many mechanisms can provide a market price for carbon emissions, Bill Foster prefers a market-based, cap & trade system to promote a reduction in CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions in the US. This provides an immediate money-making incentive to companies to reduce pollution -- which increases the chances of early adoption -- and produces a well-defined limit on the degree of greenhouse gas emissions.
Responsible Development of Biofuels
Farmers in the Illinois-14th Congressional District have benefited greatly from the boom in corn-based ethanol. The price of corn has doubled and record acreage has been planted. However, as farmers throughout the district are keenly aware, corn is only marginally viable as an energy crop since corn-based ethanol consumes almost as much energy to produce it as it returns in ethanol. It makes sense only as first step towards more advanced energy crops and biofuels (such as cellulosic ethanol from switch grass or miscanthus) that may offer as much as a 10x higher "energy payback". Advanced energy crops can dramatically alter farming patterns throughout Illinois and the 14th District. Thus the transition to advanced biofuels must be carefully understood and monitored by Congress.
There are both opportunities and dangers in biofuels. Here are two examples that indicate how the 14th District is dependent on the technological and business sense in Congress:
1. Over-Subsidization of Corn-to-Ethanol Plants. The large subsidies for corn-based ethanol plants is causing large numbers of them continue to be built even thought they are known to be non-competitive in the long term. To understand how serious the situation is, consider that by some estimates, when all of the planned corn-to-ethanol plant capacity is built, Iowa will become a net importer of corn. Those most likely to be hurt when the ethanol "bubble" bursts are not the large agribusiness and large-scale producers of ethanol, but the small groups of independent farmers who have banded together to invest in small scale corn-to-ethanol operations.
2. Which Biofuel Should Congress Invest in? It is far from clear that ethanol is the best long term bio-energy fuel. Other bio-fuels (such as butanol or 2,5-Dimethyl Furan) get more miles per gallon than ethanol and they do not corrode piping and storage tanks. However, the House of Representatives recently passed legislation providing money to upgrade piping and storage to avoid the corrosion problems of ethanol. If the final best choice for biofuels is not ethanol but some less corrosive fuel, then much of this money will have been misspent. As always, good business judgment is essential.
Any solution to the problem of climate change must have global participation. The demand for energy will continue to increase sharply in developing nations such as China and India, due to rapid population and economic growth. Any solution to climate change will need cooperation and input from these countries. Near-term and long-term goals for the level of greenhouse gas emission should be established which can initially slow down and eventually stop then reverse the rate of growth in greenhouse gas emission over the next 30 years. There should be timely and meaningful domestic and international climate policies.
Lessons learned: A significant portion of the developed world has already undergone an economic transformation where energy consumption rose drastically. We should export lessons learned. As underdeveloped nations grow, we should encourage partnerships that promote smart growth, and we should provide incentives to use cleaner technology. This can be through US investment in R&D that will eventually be exported to emerging countries or through economic pacts and trade agreements.
Reengage the world: The developing world will account for a significant portion of energy consumption and hence carbon dioxide emissions in the 21st century. We must have a real discussion with the rest of the world to develop a coordinated policy to reduce consumption. We have to repair the damage that Bush has done by disengaging from the world community on this issue and we have to form a partnership to reduce consumption.
An honest discussion of energy consumption: It is important that as we reengage the world on reducing energy consumption, we have an honest discussion on the appropriate level of reduction. We must find the middle ground between economic growth and environmental stewardship.
As a scientist, Bill Foster believes nuclear power can and has been made safe in this country. What is missing from the debate is an accurate accounting of the true cost of nuclear energy. Some costs that have been underestimated or neglected include nuclear waste disposal, the depression of real estate values in the vicinity of a plant, and the cost needed to transport electricity long distances from distant nuclear power plants to the population centers where the electricity is consumed. When these costs are accurately reflected in the price per kilowatt hour of electricity, it may -- or may not -- make this option non-competitive with other carbon-neutral methods of producing electricity.