On walks through my neighborhood, I am often greeted by the sight of another modest 1960s house being swept away to make room for a structure more than twice its size. On the same walk, I trade friendly waves with neighbors driving their 5,000-pound SUVs on local errands. These energy-hungry houses and vehicles exacerbate the two most important problems on the energy landscape: depletion of nonrenewable resources and excessive emission of greenhouse gases.
There is overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that climate change is occurring and that human activity is a major cause. Last year was the hottest year on the planet in the 100 years records have been kept. September 2012 was the hottest September. Global sea levels rose almost 7 inches in the last century. Without any help from Al Gore or Rush Limbaugh, 88 percent of climatologists concur that human activity is a major cause. Just as you don’t need to be a heart expert to listen to your cardiologist, you don’t need to be a climate expert to listen to a climatologist.
An energy policy that effectively addresses the issues of resource depletion and climate change must use efficiency measures to reduce energy use and renewable energy to replace carbon based sources. Energy efficiency is our cheapest energy source. Renewable energy is essential to the conservation of nonrenewable resources.
Some proponents of renewable energy would have us immediately shut down all coal-fired power plants and replace them with wind and solar. In the opposing camp, proponents of a supply side approach tell us to increase exploitation of fossil fuels through fracking, off-shore drilling and construction of the more pipelines. Both positions miss the mark. Wind and solar are critical to the effort, but they will take years to replace the traditional sources. The supply side approach will extend our dependence on gas and oil, accelerate their depletion and endanger fragile ecosystems such as those that support North Carolina’s valuable fishing and tourist industries.
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In North Carolina the promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy
has produced benefits far beyond the reduction of greenhouse gases and conservation of nonrenewable resources. There are 450 solar companies in the state employing 4,307 full-time equivalent workers in well-paying jobs. In 2014 we were second in the U.S. for solar electric installations. These gains are due in large part to state and federal tax credits and North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that requires utilities to produce a percentage of electricity from renewable sources. From 2009 to 2011, the Federal American Resource and Recovery Act assisted state and local governments throughout North Carolina in upgrading their HVAC and lighting systems. This program provided work for local contractors and their employees, and saved taxpayer dollars through reduced energy bills.
At this critical juncture for energy, our successful policies are under attack from moneyed interests whose pervasive influence stifles open-minded dialogue. You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth-grader to know it’s hard to get a politician to acknowledge our role in climate change when his campaign donors profit from ignoring it.
In the current political climate, there is an effort in the North Carolina legislature to eliminate future increases in the REPS requirement. Now is not the time to turn back the clock on the policies that stimulated the progress we have made. Now is the time to press forward with incentives and mandates that will create a more secure energy future for us, our children and our grandchildren.
John Rees of Raleigh is a retired control systems and energy engineer.