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<nettime> .US energy policy & telecom
brian carroll on Fri, 29 Apr 2005 16:58:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> .US energy policy & telecom

[this is a sketch. comments, critiques, corrections,
clarifications appreciated. relates to the role of
telecommunications in changing .US energy policy,
necessary to approach climate change, others, etc.]

President Bush has reiterated a number of ideas for
.US energy policy which has recently passed through
the House of Representatives and awaits the Senate
rewriting its own version and the subsequent debate.
The main feedback from the political realm is that
it is not good enough, plain and simple. Yet it is
likely as with most everything else, that holding
such a position when a policy inevitably will have
to come into being, is futile and regressive if not
getting out ahead of the late term compromises prior
to passing some synthesized legislation, where piece-
meal policy nuggets will work their way into what is
the general scheme today. None of this is good enough,
including the oppositional stance, if the success of
energy policy is weighed against the issues it now
relates to, yet which will be left out of the debate,
the compromise, and the ideas and vision of what
'energy policy' is today, and what it is becoming.
To clarify, there is the present policy drive which
is based on old industrial, incremental thinking and
may be a realm of necessary compromise by existing
political parties. Though secondly there is another
policy formation of ideas that is more paradigmatic
and stands totally outside policy consideration, yet
will be argued as central to the debate and could be
a way to open a creative, innovative approach to these
same issues that will have an immediate effect, if
'energy' policy includes the related infrastructures
of transportation and (tele-) communications, each
contributing to economic, security, efficiency goals.
This will be briefly outlined as existing between an
industrial energy policy and a new energy paradigm...

- old policy goals -

President Bush has shared several ways to optimize an
industrial energy system dependent upon oil and gas
and coal, and to build a future infrastructure that
leverages these industries as central to developments.
As recently mentioned by Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan, liquified natural gas (LNG) is one
such area that the .US needs to invest its future.
So too with additional refinery capacities though
there is already contestation by those familiar with
the industry that more real estate is not the issue,
new siting, but instead building up existing refinery
capacities themselves, on-site. New coal technology,
as another 'technology' may become a new exportable
technique in Indian and Chinese energy markets, and
may improve status-quo environmental detriments to
coal processed otherwise. Drilling in Alaska is an-
other area, ANWAR wildlife refuge, where 2,000 acres
out of several millions would be used for exploration
and extracting oil. All of these have been contested
in terms of pursuing an enlightened or 'more ideal'
approach to issues related to energy production and
consumption today from climate change, environmental
pollution, toxic waste, mining, ecosystems, to energy
economics, dependence on fossil fuels, et cetera. The
symbolic aspect of the energy bill appears to be the
big corporate subsidies, in the billions of dollars,
for industries reaping windfall profits in current
energy markets, where Exxon's reported profits are
said to be 30 billion dollars in the bank, today.

To write law in a time of record gas prices for
another 8 billion dollars to this industry is at
odds with reality and reflects the pre-9/11 mind-
set that conjured such policy goals, as channeled
through VP Cheney and the Energy Task Force members,
which likely included a cadre of Enron policy makers.
This fact may arise in early 2006 when Ken Lay goes
on trial, and if energy issues are as they are today,
and the goal of energy policy is to fleece the public,
and extract the profits to the industry as a business,
with no goal in changing the industry at all, instead
to just extend its current reach and solidify its hold
on the markets - even if it annihilates innovation.

The argument for restarting the nuclear power plant
industry after 30 years of regulation is similar in
a way, to what has happened to renewable and to the
sustainable energy industries and there may be some
lesson in its nuclear corollary, in some way. That
is that the main push for nuclear power, if it could
be contained to necessary needs to keep technological
developments or new and improved technologies around,
that it may be an area for bargaining for advancing of
similar efforts in alternative energy. If there was a
cap on the number of nuclear plants to be built, in
some compromise, so too a matching effort for some
type of renewable power could be negotiated, and may
allow a bridge- or transition-technology that would
start to address dependence on foreign oil near term.

The fear of new rights-of-way for new power lines is
another area where, if President Bush proposes using
new superconducting cables, itself another necessity
to potentially vastly improve the current grid, it
may be that 'new' rights-of-way are not possible nor
ideal, but existing rights of way may need to be re-
considered if not redesigned for longer term usage,
which could clarify moving power over long-distances
without the threat of untold bureaucratic nightmares
of trying to force high-voltage lines across the land.
Clarification is needed. This is a necessary advance
and where is contention, besides new rights-of-way?

For nuclear power, it may be a cap upon the number
of plants developed, for rights of way it may be
using existing paths, and for superconducting cables
it may be no questions asked. Thus beyond drilling
in ANWAR, and clean coal and LNG terminals, with
additional refinery capacities, the main issue
would seem to be the vast sums of money given to
these same industries to do necessary work that is
in their own business interests to do anyways, and
what is gained by that other than private profiting?
What is the incentive beyond the subsidy? Maybe the
industries are doing well in the markets as they are
and so, if playing by market rules are not required
to make such basic, incremental changes, so extra-
cash may help the process along. Though it is not
going to lower gas prices, or address the addiction
to fossil-fuels and unsustainable rates of consumption.

President Bush was right in saying that 'technology'
is key to energy policy, and yet it may not be the
only thing to be a valuable export, coal, oil, gas
technology. In a time of increased efficiencies and
huge demands and lessened supplies, the place the .US
could profit most would be to develop environmental-
friendly sustainable and alternative energies for the
export markets to developing countries, and the new
markets that inevitably will be opening up as more
and more people save money by not using so much oil,
fuel, resources. This is a place where investments
in new energy developments and industries could be
a medium and long-term strategic advantage, as part
of a policy initiative. It is not just an idealistic
approach- it is tied into major advances in major
industries- such as solar cells and NASA and novel
developments in satellite technology that can be
filtered down into consumer technologies. To try
to compete over the price of a barrel of oil is
a losing proposition when there are 5+ billion
others who have the same goal, and more money to
burn short-term, so that * whatever the supply,
however big - the demand will not be shrinking
and lessening the price over time. * The greater
the supply could be the worse for the future of
the oil market and may only accelerate drastic
reductions in use of oil as the only viable way
to sustain oil cultures without their collapse
from inability to manage the resource over time.
That is, conservation is no longer a choice, it
is a necessary strategy to maintain the standard
of living, and beyond a certain point fossil fuel
cannot be optimized anymore beyond its own limit,
that is, it may only be so efficient until a new
energy technology comes along to take its place.

A case in point is with hybrid-electric vehicles
and may signal a place for politicians of all
stripes to latch-onto a clear shared interest
goal of reducing oil consumption in automobiles,
including clean diesel cars, also as mentioned.
Tax credits may be one way to address the same
issues, but today there are backlogs of people
who want to buy hybrids and have to wait for 6
months to get a car. What could be done to help
fulfill this demand? What incentives are needed
for Detroit carmakers to become importer so to
get massive more quantities of cars starting to
be manufactured locally, and ramp up production,
for the sake of the auto industry, air pollution,
war, oil prices, and environmental stewardship?
Instead there is a vague sense that, once again,
the idealism of change and innovation and taking
risks beyond and outside the ken of the existing
energy industries will be limited, and any and
all competition to the oil and gas industries
will need to wait until the hydrogen future is
realized and Detroit makes the fictional silver-
bullet cars, until the hybrid vision will become
one for home consumption, 'made in America' etc.

This is an area where the hope of change is met
by the reality of a limited, incremental approach
to these critical issues-- issues which people
are sacrificing their lives and becoming victims
of the scourge of wars that do relate to oil in
a fundamental way that becomes very relevant to
not making changes- changes that will save lives
by changing consumer and industry habits-- is it
really too great a price to be asked to sacrifice
a bit of ego and maybe short term profit, to allow
others to live and let live and have a chance at
a much brighter future outside the confines of
the miasma of 20th century industrial patterns
of energy wars and the need of public policies
to transcend the base desire to fill gas-tanks
and drive-on into the future, without taking an
accounting of the price of this failed strategy?
The death, destruction, endless future wars, etc.

There has to be a better way, and there is, it
goes beyond politics though. And not until the
politicians can get to an agreement of previous
points, shared goals, and compromises, can the
real policy changes be developed which will be
able to effect the basic nature of things beyond
tax breaks for industries or consumers, and the
rhetoric of energy emancipation without realities
that transcend the old industrial mindset. It is
a new era for energy, which has been radically
transformed by technology, and until this is
leveraged to the advantage of the public it is
doubtful that the necessary changes could be
realized without first being conceptualized,
perceived as necessary to get from point A to
point B, from here to there, another paradigm.

- new energy goals -

The word 'industrial' reminds me of concrete. It
is basically the nature of manufacturing things,
using natural resources, on a large scale, in a
new way, and is self-evident. Super power plants,
large transmission towers, these are of a similar
industrial scale. Though there is something that
does not translate today in the 'economy of scale'
of the industrial era, when its main efficiencies
have past. That is, it is limited in what it can
do and be and becomes a ceiling for developing of
things beyond itself. For instance, if a country
today is developing and invests most of its money
into concrete building, and puts workforces into
that, it is known that its future will be faced
with retraining industries of workers who have to
change in order to meet new requirements for being
in an information-based society, and whose jobs
may dissolve and be replaced by robots, technology,
or outsourced. If a commodity or not, whatever it
is, it is similar to investing in energy policies
that are limited in what they can do, when basic
paradigms have changed, and to increase efficiency,
conserve, innovation beyond certain limitations--
these cannot be met by pursing fossil fuels alone,
nor at a certain point may the center of industries
be in the same place, as more gain the knowledge
and expertise. What will be in demand is what
comes next- which, if one is at the head of the
developing of energy technology, would be to the
advantage of a country or business or industry to
invest in developing solutions that transcend the
old, readily invested in paradigms and go levels
further in efficiencies, innovations, and options
beyond the rigid fossil-fuel markets. These are
the markets that may be the only viable ones for
newly rapidly industrialized nations to sustain
their growth and limit potential and likely future
wars over energy resources in relation to demands
for finite supplies. It is a strategy that will
help determine future wars and future peace by
pursuing options that limit or transcend effects.

  From a business point of view, the best energy
policy would be the one that subsidizes the new
industries that will challenge the old paradigms,
and extend the benefits developed to date, yet in
new ways that can be sustained over a longer term
of engagement and rapid change, even world turmoil.
This national strategic and economic goal is not
on the table and it is key to the policy issue.
Otherwise, the existing energy policy is like an
attempt to export cement and concrete to another
country when they already have the capacity to do
it on their own, and probably can be it better,
for less money, and get more out of it on their
own terms. That is, there is no [future] in it.
Whereas if one has a new approach that goes well
beyond and changes the basic nature or context
of the energy equation, its viability, economics,
it may be a strategy that fosters democracy by
freeing people from the tyranny of industrial
energy policies that limit possibilities to only
those envisioned by concretized cultural views.
For instance, in Iraq if there was an investment
in solar and wind and other technologies that
were able to decentralize energy production,
then attacks on the pipelines-to-powerplant
grid would not stop all oil and cause power-
outages. Neighborhoods may still function if
the main grid goes down. Likewise the .US can
also learn something from this approach in a
time where power outages cost businesses and
others millions of dollars per minute in down-
time and suspends the strategic and economic
aspects tied into critical infrastructures.
It is a defense issue, a security issue, an
economic issue, an energy planning issue.

Though further, what is missing in today's
version of energy policy considerations is
the logical overlap of other complimentary
industries that share in the needs and the
desires of those found in energy policies.
The role of transportation policy and the
role of communication policy could be used
as a leverage to also spur innovations in
these areas to transcend the limitations
of older models and views so to correlate
the overlapping and overriding interests
of the public and private sectors to act
to influence positive change in each of
these industries and in policies overall.

Imagine the effect on the highway system
if e-commerce and delivery of packages were
to change the nature of consumer purchasing
of large-haul SUVs so that UPS trucks and
other delivery services brought packages to
a customer instead. And that mass transit
was seen as relevant to energy policy and
the potential for savings in oil, but also
in air pollution and lost work hours in
traffic jams. In addition, communications
technologies such as VoIP allows telephone
calls over the Internet, which would save
billions of consumer dollars going into
telecommunication industries bureaucracies
(hundreds of dollars for redundant services
by monopolized industry, for wireless, phone,
cable, dial-up, etc.) - with telework and
other initiatives energy savings could be
had by telecommuting efforts, reduction in
pollution, child-care, and other expenses.
A national broadband plan for harnessing the
fiberoptic grid and opening up the broadband
sector to competition and also public wi-fi
for basic access would, like going beyond
the model of concretization of the current
services, allow growth beyond the limits of
the current system- which basically has now
crippled the Internet's development by self-
interested greed and short-term profit taking.

Energy policy which includes the savings to
be found in investing in broadband, to save
in driving cars (fuel efficiency, pollution)
and also would spur innovations in industry
beyond the current water-line would change
the basic nature of the question, of how it
is perceived as a problem or situation and
a challenge in which to marshall the forces
and infrastructures necessary to effect the
changes necessary in the time-frame alloted.
Broadband policy is every bit as important
as highway funding, and each of these is
also critical for energy use and patterns
and conservation and optimizing beyond the
realm of fossil fuel and nuclear industries.
And it is these developments, which if they
are invested in with that 8 billion or so
dollars that is a give-away to the oil and
gas and nuclear industries- was to go to
the birth of a new playing field, a new
competitive, risk-taking public and private
venture which also has rewards for changes,
adapting, advancing, innovating, would be
the strategic investment that would pay-off
when exporting this technology, these ideas,
and people to compete and cooperate in other
markets and share and consult in networks,
that this is the more realistic policy that
is beyond politics, but is also sound policy
especially if compared to where things are
today. This is a policy of the future today,
whereas the existing approach is limited by
a worldview stuck in an industrial mindset,
where the concrete has become quick-sand...

The new energy policy needs to include both
transportation and communications planning
to achieve stated economic and security goals.
Broadband and mass-transit are vital aspects
and should be the basis for negotiating the
differences in the current plan, allowing for
nuclear or other aspects, if taking it further
and developing broadband and other initiatives
in the current framework. With the condition
of subsidizing industries of the future and
not rewarding complacency and profit-taking,
literally throwing money away when people are
dying by the hour for the failure of energy
policies and planning today. Risk more, dream
more, and let people rise to the occasion...

   brian thomas carroll: research-design-development
   architecture, education, electromagnetism

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