Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obama's New Push for Greater Energy Independence

Energy independence has been one of the best selling sound bites in Washington for years.  Yet nothing ever seems to happen.  Today in a speech at Georgetown University, President Obama resurfaced the issue and acknowledged, "(w)e cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again.”  The alarm clock is a very apt metaphor, and guess what, it's ringing again.

What's different this time?  I certainly appreciate the President's interest in renewable energy but we all must realize that implementing renewables at a large scale is not yet feasible, but it will take significant investment into research and development to achieve long-term renewable solutions.  Fortunately, among the avenues to the future he touted was natural gas (along with nuclear energy).  Let's hope natural gas can actually gain some traction this time around.

Here's one active solution: President Obama ordered all government agencies to buy alternative fuel vehicles by 2015.  While plug-in electric and hybrids get all the attention, I am of the belief that they actually cause more pollution because around 45% of our country's electric power is generated from dirty coal.  Real progress will be made with the increased use of compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles.  He also praised the use of natural gas in fleets, effectively endorsing T. Boone Pickens' "Pickens Plan."  The NAT GAS legislation supporting natural gas use in fleets will be re-introduced this year and should have bi-partisan support.  The question is how much support will it have in the face of anti-fracking campaigns?  Can it cross the finish line this year?

CNG needs fueling infrastructure, and if the federal government is serious about lowering our dependence on foreign oil, it should be serious about supporting the build-out of CNG fueling stations.  It's the chicken and egg scenario we've discussed many times before.  Slowly, the private sector is growing to like CNG.  Last week, AT&T purchased 101 new CNG vans for its fleet as part of a larger plan to purchase 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles and retire around 7,100 gasoline-powered vehicles.  The private sector will sloooooooowly catch on, but it sure could use a boost from the GSA.  Let's hope help is on the way.

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