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Perhaps nowhere is America's pioneer spirit more alive and well than it is in issues related to where and how we get the energy that makes everything go. The consistency we take for granted when we flip the switch and the lights turn on belies the reality of how someone else made it happen: Big and risky wildcatting bets to drill here or there, geopolitical chess matches that would make even Indiana Jones sweat bullets, bets on technological innovation that can go boom or bust, and big utilities that ramp the power generation up and down depending on what they think you'll be doing at the time. A lot of people have had to have a lot of nerve so that you can toast your bread (there's a whole other bunch of people for the jelly).
In solving these high stakes challenges, if we are yoked to our political ideology (left or right) without becoming informed, the chickens of the inevitable factual distortions will eventually come home to roost. And whether it's in a french-fried planet due to global warming, an economy we damaged acting in needless panic, 100,000 years of improperly disposed nuclear waste, or a solution we ignored because of groundless fear, there's a heck of a lot of roosting that could happen.
So to advance the discussion - and because we want to be energy studs too - we're going to have the nerve to toss out guiding principles we think make sense. Feel free to suggest improvements in comments at the bottom of the page.
Make 50-year decisions, despite 4 year terms.The economics of building new power generation and developing new technologies is a long-term proposition. Short-term concerns dictated by political cycles and concern for today's stock prices create a poor environment for finding the long-term solutions required. Resist the 4-year tango pivot that politicians are endlessly asking us to do. Some technologies, like nuclear, solar and wind have substantial up-front costs but generate inexpensive energy. Others are inexpensive to build, but generate expensive energy. Short-term thinking is in this - as with so many things - penny-wise, pound-foolish. Environmental law attorney Jim Rossi says "It's a bit like a Vegas marriage... up front cheap but other costs over time that are hidden, they show up later in life."
Bank on correct principle, not prophecy.The ability to prophesize which energy resource or combination of resources will meet our future needs has on the whole been poor. Energy "truths" that 30 years ago most people would have held to be self-evident have been consistently proven wrong today. Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear physicist Peter Bradford: "So often the debates involve people who seem to think the unknowable can be stated with certainty."
When possible, let the market find the solutions.Our system approaches industrial development by letting the investors bear the risk and reward. While there will be some situations where a technology requires subsidy and favorable tax treatments from the government to allow it to reach a "tipping point" of market sustainability, the best long-term solutions are those that will succeed in a free market environment. This prevents the government from picking which technology they think will win and putting too many eggs in one basket.
No political meteorology.A cold winter in Buffalo or a hurricane that hits Florida aren't, by themselves, evidence that global warming either is or isn't real. People with the training to figure this out are working on it. You wouldn't do brain surgery, so no science from the peanut gallery.
Diversify energy sources to minimize economic risk.It's like an investment portfolio: You don't know whether bonds will outperform stocks or vice-versa. So you do both. Moving forward on multiple fronts at a diligent "no regrets" speed is what your investment adviser would recommend (unless they work for a robber baron Wall Street firm, in which case they'd tell you to put all the chips on red).