What is True Energy Independence?

There is a lot of talk about energy independence these days. Energy or rather the need for it drives our economy and much of our foreign policy. It sends us to war and dictates a large portion of our spending both personally and nationally. We should take a moment and consider what True Energy Independence is and what is isn’t and why it might be important.

  1. True energy independence is renewable. Oil, gas, and coal have their limits. Many say we will run out by the end of this century. We will never run out of wind, sun, or geothermal energy.
  2. True energy independence is self-generated. The more we have distributed solar PV and solar thermal energy on apartment building roofs, hotels, and homes, the less individuals and companies must depend upon fossil fuels and utilities.
  3. True energy independence is domestic. We can “drill-baby-drill” all we want in the U.S., but estimates show that we will continue to import oil from foreign sources. We can produce solar components in the U.S. or anywhere; regardless, the energy actually produced will be here.
  4. True energy independence causes minimal or no damage to our air, water, and land. To paraphrase the Vote Solar Initiative, when solar thermal energy has a sun spill, it’s called a nice day. The components of solar thermal panels are all recyclable materials, such as aluminum, copper, steel, glass, and plastic. Sustainability is inherent.
  5. True energy independence requires no army, navy, air force, or marines. The sun shines everywhere, and the components to create solar thermal, PV, and wind technologies are all available here in the U.S. There’s no need to send an aircraft carrier to protect “American interests.” In fact, the sun and wind are extremely tolerant, international, and freely cross all international boundaries. If solar and other renewable energy technologies were implemented and available everywhere, even Wall Street would shrug off a threat to cut off the Persian Gulf.
  6. True energy independence doesn’t require anyone or any community to sacrifice health or jobs for energy. I look forward to the day when towns and cities with nearby oil, gas, and coal centers aren’t pressured to choose between their own health and cheap energy. It’s a false choice to say that it’s either jobs and cheap energy or expensive energy. We can re-train this old energy workforce for clean energy jobs that preserve their own health and paychecks while contributing to American energy independence.
  7. True energy independence doesn’t require $4 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies. Yes, the solar industry has received subsidies recently, but these are minimal compared to billions that are still fed to fossil fuel and nuclear interests, and have been for decades. If America is to be truly energy independent, then we must be independent of energy subsidies. First, let’s get rid of the old energy ones. Fossil fuels and nuclear have had their share. But very soon, solar and other renewables must also be able to compete on their own, as well. Perhaps by 2020 or sooner.
  8. True energy independence can be implemented locally and democratically. Germany is on its way to energy independence because every homeowner or business is allowed to be its own mini-utility. If you produce solar or wind energy, the German utilities are required to purchase that energy via their feed-in tariff, dramatically decentralizing and democratizing power, and reducing the country’s need of dirty energy imports. On the other hand, there’s no democratization with dirty power. Even in Germany, you can’t put your own nuclear, gas, oil, or propane plant on your roof. Not only is it impossible, but it’s also cost prohibitive.
  9. True energy independence means you don’t need to donate hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Right now, yes, the solar industry needs lobbyists and the money that pays for lobbyists and their influence. But soon, solar will be cost competitive enough that subsidies aren’t needed. And when that happens, lobbyists will still be needed, but only to protect the industry from regulatory attacks by the old and dying fossil fuel industries.
  10. Finally, true energy independence means we do not have to apologize to our children. Fossil fuel companies always have excuses for doing their environmental damage. These range from “it’s not that bad,” to “jobs,” to “we’ll fix it later.” That last excuse is the most egregious to me, because it places the fix in the hands of our children who cannot vote or disagree with politicians or fossil fuel companies. When we have true energy independence, there will be no need to make excuses to future generations. In fact, they will thank us for our long view, not for the shortsighted economic gains of today.

Many of the above are goals, but they’re not impossible to reach. Presidents since Nixon have called for energy independence. Isn’t it about time we actually made a plan to achieve it with the principles outlined above?

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