Remember those multiple choice tests in school — the ones that gave you several possible answers, but only one was correct? You could usually eliminate two or three as being wrong with a little deductive reasoning, but then you would get to choice D which was: “all of the above.” Well, heck, if I thought hard enough I could come up with a scenario that would include all of the answers. This would be the correct answer if the question was “What should our nation’s energy policy be?”
There are many who advocate only a single source of energy. There are those who say only solar energy is the truly natural and environmentally friendly energy source. There are the advocates of wind energy, or geothermal, or hydroelectric. The proponents of nuclear energy scoff at all of these and say only nuclear represents and long-lasting and consistent source of power. Then there are those who wonder what the fuss is all about; they maintain there is enough oil and coal to last hundreds of years. The correct answer is that they are all right and that only an all-inclusive approach to energy will truly see us into the future.
While many espouse this all of the above approach to energy, many really don’t mean it. For example, the President says he supports an all of the above approach, but he really only means all of the sources that he approves of; solar, wind, and sometimes renewable energy get his backing. Folks in New York and California support solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Some environmental groups support only wind and solar, because those have the least environmental impact. Here in the Midwest, we tent to support renewable energy, coal, and oil because those are the resources we have. Much of the current debate over energy centers around to which group a person belongs.
Indiana is one of the few states that actually embraces all forms of energy. We have 13 ethanol plants, a biodiesel plant, several wind farms, several solar farm projects, some hydroelectric dams, many active oil fields, and a 300 year supply of coal. Indiana energy policy has supported all these sources.
Currently US energy production is dominated by natural gas, 37.7%; coal, 24.4%; oil, 19.2%; nuclear, 10.1%; and renewables, 11.3%. Of the renewable, biomass makes up the largest amount at 5.6%, hydroelectric at 3.1%, wind at 1.9%, and solar at 0.38% and geothermal at 0.27%. While wind, solar, and hydroelectric get the most press, it is biomass that represents the largest sector of renewable energy. While oil, coal, and nuclear get bashed the most, they are the energy source we rely on the most.
Indiana Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann told me last week that a new state energy policy, expected to be announced next month, will likely reaffirm an all of the above stand as well as strong support for new sources including cellulosic energy. National energy policy, however, remains muddled. Mixed signals are given as the White House promotes renewables while the EPA tries to restrict them. The President recently traveled to Southwest Indiana to praise a local manufacturing facility. Yet, the White House has imposed tough new regulations on the coal industry which is a vital economic driver in that same area of Indiana. The new regulations will result in high electricity costs in Indiana, which produces most of its electricity from coal. Not only will all of us see our electric bills jump sharply, but manufacturers, including the one visited by the President, will see their costs skyrocket. Some may even be forced to close or leave the state.
Innovation has already changed the energy situation in the US. Coal power plants and oil refineries have been improved to significantly reduce the levels of gasses they release. Bio-refineries are far more efficient than just a few years ago, and methane digesters are turning animal waste into energy. Ethanol is being produced from a variety of new crops and waste products, and battery technology is evolving rapidly. Energy is a key driver, not only for agriculture but for almost every sector of the economy. A reliable and affordable energy supply is vital. No one source will be able to accomplish this. The correct answer to the energy question is all of the above.
By Gary Truitt