13 October 2009

Virginia Energy Symposium

This past week I attended the Virginia Energy Symposium, held in Lexington, VA. The symposium was somewhat informative and yet, to me, depressing. There were 400 or so folk who showed up, most of the regular characters you find at such things: solar, wind and biomass folks, utility reps, college facility people, politicians or there reps, etc..

As I circulated among the seminars and talked to the people at the conference, I got a very clear understanding of how far we are from grasping the scope of the change that needs to be made. At this symposium, I found just what I expected, many of the people on the front lines of energy policy change and renewable generation had a clear understanding of just how much has to happen in a small amount of time.

Unfortunately, the political folks had not an inkling of understanding. I will site two examples and you judge for yourself:

At a symposium where an Assistant Secretary of DOE gave a presentation, he discussed the much needed work to be done on existing buildings in the area of energy retrofits. This is a huge potential for carbon reduction that is easily achievable and compared to other carbon reduction strategies, relatively inexpensive. After the presentation during the question and answer portion I asked if we could get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make it mandatory that any home purchased using their funds (which is the majority of all homes sold in the US) have an energy audit done. We could get folks used to doing them and use this to quantify the homes energy footprint in an eye towards making energy upgrades mandatory with the sale of homes. This is a program that is not pie in the sky, rather it is currently being done in the UK. The answer was depressing a generic, "we are looking into many ways of encouraging energy audits". To me this was the failure to recognize two facts, first is that the US taxpayer now runs Fannie and Freddie (for all intents and purposes) and secondly it would take no political maneuvering, as Fannie and Freddie can impose that type of requirement at will.

The second was what happened at the final symposium, the summation of the conference. They had four speakers, one from biomass, solar and wind and one from the governors office. After the presentations during the questions and answer period I asked this question:
I said that it seemed to me that all the presenters were ignoring the elephant in the room. Every alternative energy presenter lamented the fact that it is hard to compete with the cheap energy we have in Virginia, and that with little political and financial support from Richmond, the alternative energy community was facing a tough road. The elephant is Virginia's cheap energy. I asked the governors rep. this ~ since we all generally agree that we need sustainable, non-polluting sources of energy in Virginia and that we have cheap energy here in the olde dominion, why not use that as a positive and raise the cost of energy to create the revenue to pursue a faster switch to a sustainable future. The response was once again what I expected, the gov's rep started in saying that Virginia could not act "in a vacuum" and that making a change while the rest of the US and the world did not would hurt Virginia. I responded that we cannot abdicate our responsibility for climate change and that is exactly what he was doing by making that argument. He said "I did not say that" to which I said, "you most certainly did". With that the moderator took another question.

This is the situation and the problem. Left in the hands of the politicians, who are guided by those with alot of money and a vested interest in business as usual we are screwed! So once again I am making a call to action.

Good luck!

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