Energetic Disagreement

The Idaho Legislature’s efforts at energy planning in recent years leave much to be desired. As legislators, we ranchers, teachers, small business owners, insurance salesmen and retired farmers gather in committee and try to learn some of the basics. What are the limits to how much electricity we can carry on our existing power lines? What new energy producing technology is being developed? What are the true comparative impacts to our health and our environment of coal, nuclear, wind, hydro, solar and geothermal power generation?
    Sadly we rely heavily on presentations from industry to answer our questions and school us in the basics. Ultimately it is Idaho Power, Idaho National Lab, coal producers and the very corporations who stand to gain from energy projects who take committee chairs to lunch, feed us information and set policy for us behind closed doors so that we end up with plans which are designed more to improve companies viability than they are to create energy independence and security for uncertain times.
    For example, our interim committee on energy did not set firm targets for renewable energy in Idaho’s portfolio of energy sources, instead our state energy office has been set free to focus on nuclear power whose lobby has been relentless in trying to convince the state that, though practically no other state wants to build new nuclear power plants, that Idaho should embrace the idea in spite of the fact that it ensures the storage of new nuclear wastes within our boarders.
    I’m quite certain that our new energy czar does not have a set of proposals or options from every possible type of energy producer on his desk. Solar turbines, tidal and micro hydro never seem to enter into the conversation. And what if we really thought outside the box and decentralized energy production somewhat, especially for residential usage? What if we heavily incentivized solar water heaters, passive solar heat and small energy projects on ditches, ranches and roofs across the state?
    Diverse and decentralized production makes more sense for creating energy independence and energy security for our state than giant nuclear project or new coal plants. Both coal and nuclear rely on limited resources and even with recycling of nuclear fuel, very dangerous wastes remain as by-products which will continue to accumulate and will have to be put somewhere for hundreds and even potentially thousands of years.
    In committee I ask questions and watch some of my colleagues roll their eyes at strategies to address the impacts of climate change, air pollution, and water contamination. We can keep feeding the folly that says we will be fine when gas reaches $5 a gallon. We can pretend we don’t really need public transportation and that the public will accept radioactive waste being stock piled next to the Snake River. We can pretend we can keep building subdivisions out to the horizon and never run out of water, never find a time when the freeways can not be widened any further.
    Without question energy and environmental issues are the toughest ones I deal with. They have become sadly the most partisan — I think in part because, as legislators we don’t know enough about science to ask the right questions. We don’t demand to know the other side of the story or demand to know who paid for the glossy publications or the monthly "climate" and "environmental" newspapers which appear everywhere we go. If we are to guard the interests, the energy security and health of our state and our population we have to be more critical and creative. Too much is at stake for us not to.

3 thoughts on “Energetic Disagreement

  1. Tom Ryder - January 28, 2008

    Rep LeFavour — I am glad that you have concluded that energy and environmental issues are important for legislators. Clearly state law, regulation and oversight are important to the businesses and industry that provides for our energy needs and have the ability to impact our environment in both harmful and beneficial ways. A couple of your comments, however, I believe are not completely accurate or helpful for the debate.
    First, legislators, regulators and government officials do rely on planning, discussions, relationships and vast amounts of informations from energy providers. They also rely on and listen to energy users — both representing residential users and industrial users. These are the two primary parties who are directly impacted by energy policy. In addition, the third party at the table is the public — not as energy users but as interested and informed citizenry that have a vast stake in energy production alternatives. By ignoring the massive amount of research and information available to all decision makers you tend to trivialize the importance of the process that exists today. Because you don’t agree completely with their decisions and outcomes you marginalize your point of view. I don’t believe they are making perfect decisions, but the process requires very impressive amounts of data, information, facts and, yes, even opinions to be expressed and analyzed. I doubt whether we would have much better results if the final outcome included all of the things you wish for…
    When you suggest things such as solar turbines, tidal and micro hydro, decentralizing energy conservation and other esoteric ideas, you seem to believe they hold great promise for the future. I think most energy experts, including those at our public utilities, our natural gas providers and our oil companies, would agree. Two key words…”promise” and “future”. When in the future do those exotics become cost effective and will their promises be fulfilled? Let’s work together on answering those questions. But, let’s also be honest — if we overcommit to those or any of a number of ideas prematurely we run the risk of spending money foolishly, making wrong decisions or not adequately providing for future energy demands.
    I sympathize with your plight to a great extent, but just as Senator Stennett posted recently to Dr. Rickards, sometimes you must take small steps to accomplish big tasks. By blaming glossy, public relations brochures, slanted customer information sheets and energy newsletters for the actions taken by public bodies that you don’t agree with would seem to allow them to criticize and demean glossy, or semi-glossy brochures, newsletters and member information sheets from groups you support. That blame is not productive and, in my opinion, misplaced. These important decisions are not made by glossy PR, but by deliberative bodies, consisting of Idaho citizens, through public process taking informed and knowledgeable actions. Give them credit whether you agree with their decisions or not. After all they do take their work seriously.

  2. Sisyphus - January 28, 2008

    Geez Tom, I think you misconstrue some points here. Rather than trivialize the process she’s stating that reviewing the massive amounts of material makes her job difficult in representing the public at that table. She’s lamenting the fact that industry and its piles of money can make a solution to perceived problems as simple particularly where no one is stepping up to raise a voice on behalf of the public because its not on our radar or the media isn’t watching. That leaves her alone with her responsiblities, probably mistrustful, and wondering how many stones went unturned because her task to fill that void is so daunting. How can she “overcommit” if those possible solutions aren’t even mentioned?
    And I didn’t gather from her post that she was biased one way or the other on matters. Rather I inferred that she was lamenting that more aren’t involved, more information isn’t made available in the process and that ultimate decisions are made in the back room, which they are. But when you blast some energy solutions as “esoteric” we definitely know where you’re coming from.

  3. Rob Miller - January 29, 2008

    Nicole, Once again you provide me a glimmer of hope in the legislative process and tremendous satisfaction that you are my representative. This is the first time that I have heard or read anyone in leadership positions seriously acknowledging the possible advantages and roles of local energy generation. I hope we can get to a point where we have a balance of central and local generation that provides much higher sustainability that we see today. Keep up the good work and thanks for the excellent blog!

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