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Bush Administration Exploits Energy Issue
to Assault Environment
Clean choices available to resolve energy crunch
in California, nation

March 22, 2001

The Union of Concerned Scientists today charged the Bush administration with using energy needs as a pretext for assaulting the environment and proposing actions that would actually make our energy problems worse. To wit:

  • Two days before taking office, Bush said that environmental laws may be preventing California power plants from operating at full capacity. Generators subsequently declared Bush wrong.

  • Ten days into his term, the president used California power shortages to justify oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife. Oil accounts for only one percent of California electricity and less than three percent of national electricity generation.

  • On day 39, Bush proposed relaxing regulations to speed construction of new power plants.

  • On day 40, the administration proposed cutting the Department of Energy's overall budget by $700 million. There are indications that DOE's energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development budget could suffer a disproportionate share of the cut. A day earlier the president said he supported renewables and efficiency.

  • On day 53, he broke his campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at power plants.

Earlier this week administration officials were wrong again when they said there are no short-term fixes for energy problems. "Conserving energy by investing in energy efficiency improvements is by far the fastest, least expensive way to balance energy demand and supply needs," said Alan Nogee, Director of UCS's Clean Energy Program. "President Bush's proposals would prolong our dependence on coal and oil, which will only cost us more in the long run by increasing the cost of responding to global warming."

"We need to develop and deploy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that will conserve and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels," said Ron Sundergill, UCS's Washington Representative for Energy. "These programs need federal funding, not lip service."

Energy efficiency and renewable energy could immediately begin to stem the energy crunch. For example:

  • If the 11.5 million households in California replaced 4 (average 100 watt) incandescent light bulbs with 4 (equivalent 27 watt) compact fluorescent light bulbs, burning on average 5 hours per day, we would save enough energy to shut down four 350 Megawatt power plants.

  • The California Energy Commission is providing low-interest loans to convert traffic lights to more energy efficient modules that cut electricity use by 80 to 90 percent. The change is expected to save Sacramento County $67,000 a year in electricity costs.

  • A bill currently under consideration in California would increase funding for energy efficiency by more than $1 billion.

  • America has abundant renewable energy resources. With today's technology, wind energy alone could economically provide 20 percent of America's electricity. A typical wind farm generates electricity within six months of groundbreaking for the project.

  • The current cost for wind projects with up-to-date technology is 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) at good sites. Electricity from large new wind farms in the western United States will cost less than 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

  • By comparison, recent hikes in natural gas prices have driven fuel costs alone for older gas-fired power plants past 5 cents per kWh produced, and spot market shortages have led to much higher prices -- $10 per kWh and up.

  • Leading states have made commitments that will increase the total use of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass power by 8,550 megawatts. That's enough electricity to power 5.6 million homes, reducing as much carbon dioxide - the main greenhouse gas causing global warming - as planting 1.2 billion trees or taking four million cars off the road.

  • Sales of residential wind turbines in California are already skyrocketing as consumers seek refuge from high energy bills. Sales for one company are seven times greater for the month of January 2001 than they were for all of 2000.

Meanwhile, utility spending on energy efficiency programs nationally fell 45 percent between 1993 and 1998. While utility conservation budgets were being slashed, peak summer loads grew by 56,000 MW. In several regions, capacity reserve margins are thin. Half of the growth in peak loads could have been avoided by increasing energy efficiency spending.

Renewable energy generation nationally fell from 66 billion kWh in 1993 to 49 billion kWh in 1998, as utilities cut near-term costs to prepare for deregulation. Congress should extend and expand renewable energy tax credits and require energy companies to provide an increasing percentage of their supplies from clean renewable energy sources.

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