Energy Policy

Good energy policy doesn't need to be about using less energy, provided we can produce it in renewable ways. That may mean that energy needs to cost more, but it doesn't mean we need to cut back.

Energy companies right now don't want to produce energy in renewable ways. They don't like wind, they don't like solar, and they don't like any kind of hydroelectric other than dams. Current suggestions range from the feel-good idea of purchasing voluntary certificates to supposedly offset an individual's carbon footprint, to capping carbon emissions and creating a market for carbon credits. Both have issues.

There is one simple thing we could do. Deregulate, with a twist.

Right now, in most markets, residents have only two choices: purchase their power from a single approved utility company, or live off the grid. Deregulation doesn't provide the competition needed to create a more friendly market situation. Utility companies just don't seem to compete (I'd like to see any examples to the contrary).

Instead of simply stepping back from regulation, the state needs to change the way it regulates. We need to exercise eminent domain over the power lines, the grid, and take over that intermediary role: the bridge between the consumer and the producer. The state has a decent track record of simply maintaining infrastructure, and we don't need to put it into any actual business role.

So what does the state do with this newly public grid? Simple: it dictates at what price it will purchase power, and at what price it will sell power.

For real progress on our energy production, that production needs to be distributed. Small producers need to be included, and producers need to be free to innovate. Right now, the producers, a small number of them, have proven they can make money from dirty technology, and they are reluctant to abandon their proven method for one that, while it will undoubtedly be better for the world, may not be better for their investors. We need to cut the ties that keep those companies the only ones producing power. If the government owns the power lines, it can say that it will buy solar energy at one rate, wind at another, hydroelectric at two more rates depending on the ecological impact of the specific facility, clean coal at another, dirty coal at yet another, and nuclear, if at all, at a final rate. All of this power can be sold to the consumer at one rate. The government can, if it has to, take a loss and fund the difference out of taxes.

Yes, these differential rates constitute subsidies, tinkering with purely market forces. That's okay. We're allowed to say that things that don't end up in an accountant's report still have value. That is not, however, a decision we can expect a company to make. This plan would open up the system to all the small and experimental and less profitable producers that we need. Some things just shouldn't be left to purely business forces.


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