As debates rage between industrial providers of traditional energy sources and environmentalists who would prefer all structures to be powered by pure renewable energy systems, one thing often gets lost in the discussion: Reality. Economic reality, energy security reality, and technological reality.
The other reality is that this is not a new debate. From the 1960s and 1970s with the environmental movement to clean up our waterways and our air, to the oil embargo by OPEC and to the Three Mile Island incident, providing clean, efficient, and secure energy has been at the forefront of our discussions and policies spanning more than 50 years.
The oil embargo from the 1970s ushered in the phrase “energy independence,” which has been used by environmentalists, politicians, and oil companies since the days of long gas lines and the threat of prices hitting $1 per gallon. In the post 9/11 era the big push has become “energy security.” In either scenario, the objective is to relieve ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and the instability that that dependency brings.
Nonetheless, striving to be energy independent with clean and efficient technology and making full use of all the resources at our disposal are both reasonable and achievable goals. As President Barack Obama stated last year, “We need an energy strategy for the future -- an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.” This includes both traditional energy sources as well as renewable and alternative sources -- all of which are produced in the United States.
Noted energy author Michael A. Levi writes in his new book, “The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future,” “The United States can strengthen its economy . . . if it intelligently embraces the historic gains unfolding all across the energy landscape . . . The right strategy for the United States would embrace opportunities in old and new energy alike.”
In other words, the environmental and geopolitical factors that play a role in energy policy must be balanced. There is a critical role for oil, natural gas and nuclear power in our energy policy just as there is for solar, wind power, and other related technologies.
Both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources have benefits, but also provide reasons to proceed with caution.
For example, some renewable energy, such as biofuels, can be inefficient and costly. Wind and solar power are expensive and require significant subsidies in order to be affordable and currently lack the technological infrastructure to properly secure this energy source.
Fossil fuels are plentiful and important because they produce significant amounts of energy, though their emissions can be an environmental concern.
These diverse energy sources need not be a choice of one or the other. While renewable energy is cleaner, its inconsistent delivery limitations make the use of natural gas and oil an excellent source for providing electricity, heating our homes, and powering our vehicles.
Renewable technology is still developing and can have a greater role once it is improved. In contrast, oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy are reliable and plentiful and provide power on a consistent basis that does not currently exist with renewable energy on a large-scale basis.
As a legislator, I have sponsored bills that embrace renewable energy technologies. Being “green” has been part of my voting record for the past 16 years of public office and includes land preservation, recycling policies, subsidies, and tax credits for energy efficient systems. I am also a realist. Today’s traditional energy is much cleaner than it has ever been due to the hard work of grassroots-advocates and good corporate citizenship of many of the energy providers.
If New Jersey is to continue on the economic road to recovery we must have a diversified energy portfolio that makes it affordable to both live and work here.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Association's Residential Energy Consumption Survey, New Jersey has the sixth-highest average electricity prices in the United States.
It is also noteworthy that the “Database of State Incentives and Renewable Efficiency” commends New Jersey for having “one of the most aggressive renewable portfolio standards in the United States.”
Currently, New Jersey is behind only California for solar installations in the country. However, the price volatility in some of the renewable energies, such as solar power, makes the goal of achieving a diverse portfolio more challenging. Price impacts investment, which is needed for the continued growth of this evolving technology.
The volatility in these energy sources is perhaps the best argument for maintaining a balance of resources. Too much dependence on one subjects consumers to fluctuations in prices and also impacts our economy.
The bottom line is this: We need energy security and stability that is both affordable and clean. A balanced portfolio of energy solutions will achieve these objectives while protecting the environment and without further hurting our economy.