Let’s start with the basics. Neither candidate has proposed an actual energy “plan” because doing so would involve difficult compromises, something that voters are adverse to during election time (and maybe any other time as well). Both “plans” are political marketing pieces that lack details and do not address key energy issues, but we’ll review them for face value.
No wordsmith here
“The Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class: Energy Independence” is mainly a collection of quotes from other sources. In fact, of the 10,164 words in his plan, only 2,452 words were written by the Romney campaign. The remaining 7,712 words are quoted from news reports, commentary, and a Citigroup analysis that is optimistic about U.S. energy reserves.
The Romney platform claims that EPA rules are causing regulatory uncertainty . The current confluence of regulations, some which have been promulgated and others that are still in proposed stage, are widely the result of various court decisions vacating rules and lawsuit settlements that bound EPA to produce revised rules in certain (overlapping) timeframes. So yes, there is a regulatory mess, but it is not solely caused by EPA. Romney’s plan to cap regulatory costs and impose minimum compliance timeframes is a step in the right direction, but the requirement that major regulatory actions (those with an economic impact greater than $100 million – which is extremely low in terms of industry-wide compliance costs) needing approval by both houses of Congress would mire regulations in more political uncertainty, not less.
Power for our homes and cars
Neither plan mentions electric transmission infrastructure, other than one mention of “a smarter electrical grid” in the Democratic platform. This is a glaring omission from Obama’s camp because integration of higher levels of renewables would necessitate transmission upgrades (and create jobs for that matter). In fact, it is simply technically inconceivable how the U.S. could get 80 percent of its energy from “clean” sources without expanding transmission infrastructure….unless the plan is simply to repower all coal with natural gas. More on that in a minute.
Both plans forget about any non-fossil transportation fuels and electric vehicles, other than a cursory nod to “advanced vehicles” (whatever that means) and one mention of biofuels production by Obama. Romney’s white paper mentions biofuel regulations being better administered by states. Transportation fuels are a major driver for U.S. oil consumption, so having an energy plan that proposes a solution to the “pain at the pump” should be important to voters. Romney’s ‘let’s produce more domestic oil’ stance reflects a basic ignorance of the global crude market. Even the Congressional Budget Office concluded that gasoline prices will not be significantly affected by more domestic oil production. The Obama administration’s solution seems to be liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles, and calls natural gas a “clean fossil fuel.” There is no discussion of a timeframe for accomplishing this mass conversion of the transportation industry, something unlikely to happen during a second term. Some analysts have speculated that using LNG for transportation combined with increased exports would significantly raise the cost of natural gas from its current lows. That will of course raise electricity costs, as the mass conversion from coal to gas has already begun.
What happens to baseload generation?
Nuclear energy is absent from the Democratic platform as it is a lightening rod issue in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and the Yucca Mountain storage fiasco. However, Obama’s renewable energy goals combined with environmental regulations that would preclude new coal-fired power will be difficult to meet without replacement of existing baseload coal. The wording leaves us wondering whether the intent is to just replace all coal with natural gas and call it a “clean energy” economy. Over-reliance on any one source of energy is economically risky for the nation. And what about those concerns over fracking? Do they just go away?
Conversely Romney appears to support new nuclear development, with a claim of being able to approve new sites within two years (a variation on the SAFE Nuclear Act). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Company’s two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle using a combined construction and conditional operating license. That process took over 3 years, however.
The omission of any discussion of energy efficiency and reducing energy waste is a blunder on the part of the Romney campaign. Just about everyone, including utility execs, support energy efficiency. In addition, technological advances for improving energy efficiency – everything from appliances to building design to smart meters – create jobs. In addition, not mentioning climate change AT ALL may appease the conservative right, but it leaves everyone else wondering if Romney really gets it – not so much the science of climate change, but that most Americans are concerned about it. In a recent study, 78 percent of those polled say global warming will be a serious problem if left alone.
Surprisingly, Obama’s platform makes no mention of using federally-owned lands for new wind and solar projects, something that has decent support among moderates. His administration has pursued using federal lands for coal leases (Powder River Basin) as well as solar, geothermal, and wind projects. Why not mention it? The only guess is that he thought the idea would be too unpopular with green activists that seek to prevent development on federal lands.
Summing it all up
The energy platforms are not plans, and implementation of most of the objectives from either party will require the participation and cooperation of Congress. But the platforms provide us with a glimpse of how each candidate thinks: Romney supports more use of fossil energy with less environmental regulations, while Obama would provide more financial incentives for wind and solar, while capitalizing on currently low natural gas prices. A viable energy policy would incorporate elements of both parties’ platforms, recognize the tradeoffs between environmental goals and economic recovery, while being far more specific on short-term and long-term objectives. Selling that energy policy to the American public would be the problem.