National energy policy must be broad and inclusive | Don Brunell

America must have a thoughtful and comprehensive national energy policy which focuses on supplies that are environmentally friendly, abundant and affordable.

Our strategy needs to include all energy sources. It must have balance and we need to have the patience, persistence and wisdom to implement it. It should encourage innovation.

Energy is our nation’s lifeline. As our technology improves and our population grows, our dependence on electricity and transportation fuels increase.

An “All-of-the-Above Energy Policy” would include wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, natural gas and even futuristic sources such as hydrogen. Just as important, the plan would find ways to streamline project approval and permitting without unduly jeopardizing our environmental, health and worker protections.

Surprisingly, Congress has been working to find common ground on a national energy strategy.

Recently Alaska’s Journal of Commerce reported the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee agreed on our country’s first comprehensive energy policy reform bill since 2007. It credits the hard work by committee chair Lisa Murkowski, Alaskan Republican, and ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The Journal stated the U.S. House developed a plan as well. Lawmakers are set to go to conference after the summer recess and hope to have a bill on President Obama’s desk before he leaves office.

There are many opportunities to put Americans back to work, sell energy products and technology, and generate much needed tax revenue—revenue which could help pay off our $19.5 trillion national debt.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that global energy demand will increase 40% between now and 2046.

America is positioned to lead the development of all energy production and technology if Republicans and Democrats will continue to bridge differences. It is not easy.

Republicans believe we must invest in carbon fuels, including coal, which are abundant, clean, affordable and a reliable domestic energy source. They would reverse the trend toward eliminating coal and put thousands of coal miners and power plant operators back to work.

Democrats focus on climate change by curtailing coal, natural gas and oil and believe renewable energy technology will bring new jobs.

The lightning rod in the debate is fracking—the new technology to extract oil and natural gas from deep beneath the earth. Over the last five years, fracking has made America the world’s top oil and gas producer accounting for thousands of new family-wage jobs.

EIA reports the USA now is the world’s top oil and natural gas producer. Our natural gas production exceeds Russia’s output and we even outpaced Saudi Arabia in oil.

Aside from the debate over oil, gas and coal, there are other energy projects which both sides may find agreement. They are complex and daunting as well.

For example, Washington could link its bountiful wind and water generating resources. We could build pump-storage facilities along the Columbia River in central Washington which would increase our hydropower output. Currently, our state receives 70% of its electricity from water power.

Here’s how it works.

During times when wind farms produce a surplus of electricity, water from Columbia River reservoirs could be pumped hundreds of feet uphill to newly constructed reservoirs. It would be stored until peak load electrical demand periods when it would be dropped through penstocks into turbines to generate hydropower.

Pump storage projects are gaining acceptance, but finding the money to fund them is a problem. If they are part of a national energy strategy, chances are better that financing will occur.

The bottom line is there are many opportunities to continue to make America “the world’s energy leader.” But it does take an open-minded commitment to look at all options and a desire resolve differences.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.