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December 29, 2015
Rebuilding a Renewable Energy Future
By Ralph Nader
The U.S. has some big problems that require bold solutions. Unfortunately, books
about solutions to our society’s problems are often given short shrift by reviewers or
languish on our bookshelves. As I often say, this country has more problems than it
deserves and more solutions than it uses. Now comes S. David Freeman.
In 1974 David Freeman, an energy engineer and lawyer, wrote much of and directed
all of the research for the book, A Time to Choose: America’s Energy Future, a
comprehensive early inquiry into America’s energy crisis. A Time to Choose offered
ideas galore about how our country could use efficiency and conservation to benefit
the environment and the economy and ushered in a new era of energy efficiency.
Freeman has also run several giant utilities including the Tennessee Valley Authority
(TVA), the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the New York Power Authority
(PASNY) and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). After seven
years at the TVA, he spent the next thirty advocating for and implementing
environmentally sound and consumer friendly changes in energy policy. Mr. Freeman
has been an innovator and leading authority on energy and environmental matters for
a long time and knows what he’s talking about, so when he speaks up about energy
policy we should listen.
In January of 2016, in collaboration with his coauthor, Leah Y. Parks, he will publish a
new and important book about our energy future: All-Electric America: A Climate
Solution and the Hopeful Future. The book is scathing but optimistic, and manages to
be bold while remaining pragmatic. Drawing on their combined years of experience,
Freeman and Parks make the case for addressing the dangers of climate change with
some concrete steps to counter our current downward spiral. Mr. Freeman argues
that we will soon be able to power all of our energy needs with electricity generated
completely by renewable energy as well as with increased energy efficiency in
heating, cooling, lighting, transportation and our electric grid. The authors point out
Transforming our entire energy infrastructure to run on renewable energy by the year
2050 will require a larger effort than solely switching out our current electricity
capacity. Investments in coal mining, oil and gas drilling and building new large coal,
gas, and nuclear plants will give way to a massive increase in the construction of solar
and wind power plants.
It comes as no surprise that this book rejects the indiscriminate “all of the above”
approach (coal, oil, gas, nuclear, solar and conservation) to generating energy and
argues that we have a leadership gap when it comes to developing a clean, safe and
efficient energy policy that can boost our economy:
Rapid progress toward an all-renewables future is being stymied not by lack of
technology, or even by cost or market demand, but by lack of vision on the part of our
political and business leaders, and lobbying and persuasive advertising by the oil,
gas, coal, and nuclear industries.
President Obama, environmentally minded political leaders and most of the major
environmental organizations have been promoting both the “green revolution” and the
“brown surge,” supporting both renewables and the continued use of fossil fuels.
They have failed to hammer home the message that a completely renewable future
will be lower in cost, as well as necessity if we are to halt global warming, much less
propose programs to make it happen. This is despite the fact that a long-sought
bipartisan goal of U.S. energy policy has been to achieve energy independence. An
all-renewable supply is the best way to do so.
By reducing emissions by 3 percent each year, the authors argue we would be
capable of achieving a zero-emissions society in 35 years. The book manages to
reconcile its lofty goals with sensible policy prescriptions. Big items on the agenda put
forth in this book include:
Outlawing the building of new fossil-fueled electric power plants;
Creating a Federal Green Bank, which provides loan guarantees (not loans) for the
financing of railroad electrification and for the construction of renewable electricity
Requiring that all new homes and buildings be Green House Gas (GHG) -free and
existing buildings be retrofitted to zero GHG at time of sale or within fifteen years; and
Requiring all major auto, truck and bus manufacturers to reduce GHG emissions of
vehicles by 3 percent each year, through a combination of improvements in mileage
and lower GHG emissions.
The authors also note that big energy companies and their campaign contributions
from the fossil fuel and nuclear industries have stifled sound, sustainable energy
policies but how, with a little focused “civic energy” we can motivate industry and utility
companies to adopt cleaner practices and policies that can make 3 percent annual
emissions reductions not only feasible, but profitable.
The authors also challenge the notion that nuclear power and natural gas will
eliminate our climate change woes and argue that renewables are a better financial
bet for the consumer than oil, coal, natural gas or nuclear power for several reasons:
Nuclear power is a poor economic risk, requiring full government (taxpayer) loan
guarantees, and also because no private insurance is available for an accident that
causes billions of dollars of damage.
There are no fuel costs for solar and wind maintenance and it is thus virtually inflation-
Renewable costs are going down while the price of oil fluctuates with an upward trend.
The future price of natural gas is most likely to go up.
The savings in the indirect cost of renewables over coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear
power are profound. Some indirect costs include damages from environmental
contamination, climate change, health expenses, managing the risks of nuclear power
and military commitments—including deployments and even wars to safeguard oil
from the Middle East.
When All-Electric America comes out in January of 2016 you will have a chance to
make yourself knowledgeable about the real avenues available to us to transform our
energy infrastructure for present and future generations by moving toward a new
renewable energy economy with far more jobs, health, efficiency and security benefits
than there are in relying on hydrocarbons and radioactive atoms.