Department Opposed to Energy

Excerpted from March 1997 issue
The Department of 
Energy at Work
Once upon a time, there was the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), whose mission was to promote the safe use of "atomic" (correctly: nuclear) energy. To Washington's finest, mostly products of law schools, it was just appalling that an agency should be in charge simultaneously of energy production and safety. Better there should be strife, friction, and litigation between two agencies, one for each mission. Thus conceived and born into mutually combative roles were the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In case you're wondering which one is involved in energy production, you're in good company: both suck up to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose idea of a good human is one who lives in a cave, and most of whose progeny die before puberty. The DOE does little or nothing either to produce or to promote energy, but offers expensive playthings that produce little power.

Power, no, but press releases, yes. The DOE puts press releases on the internet [] for all to read. Much of what follows has been gleaned from their cyber-notes.

The new head of the DOE is Federico Pe¤a, who knows as much about energy as I do about Swahili. The main difference is that I don't get paid to obstruct Swahili. He has taken over from Hazel O'Leary, whose accomplishments include changing the name of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL) to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. The new acronym, INEEL, is pronounced "I Kneel," to signify subservience to everything designated GREEN.

Conservation, goes the argument, is good for you, for me, for industry, for the country, for the world, for all of the known universe. It saves money. Most of us are too stupid to understand good-in-the-abstract and the cogent reasons for saving The Environment. However, the DOE might suppose that, even with our limited intelligence and narrow perspective, we can understand the need to save money. Right?

Wrong. By the DOE's reckoning, we need to be wheedled and bludgeoned even into saving money by being efficient. The DOE says that "DOE will help encourage basic, energy- intensive industries to develop an energy-efficient vision for the 21st century," [1, 1/22/97]. Evidently, the DOE thinks the petroleum refining, forest products, steel, aluminum, metal casting, and glass industries cannot figure out for themselves whether saving energy is good for their profitability. Their platitudes are as inconsequential as Clinton's obsession with the meaningless division between one century and the next (or, for that matter, between the past and the future). Our illustrious president must, after all, make a name for himself, having been upstaged during his State-of-the-Union address by a pampered football player who finally encountered some measure of justice.

The glass industry? Energy intensive? Could the DOE be referring to the industry that will be making all that glass for solar collectors that will save The Environment? Or, perhaps the solar panels will use transparent plastics made from petroleum?

By DOE's own reckoning, efficiency improvements can't pay for themselves. Why else should they award nearly $1 million to 19 energy projects [1, 10/10/96] in grants which "will be used to promote energy efficiency in residential, utility, industrial/commercial, and the public sectors"?

In the name of efficiency, the 20,000 energy-efficient GE refrigerators have been purchased for installation in public housing units. The writers of the December 4 news brief [1] carefully used the passive voice to avoid saying which agency picked up the tab (probably DOE) and passed it on to taxpayers. The plan is to expand DOE's high-volume purchase plan to include 60,000 Maytag Magic refrigerators. The cost savings, which will presumably be $3 million per year _ "could be passed on to tenants through apartment rehabilitation and job training," says the DOE. Yeah, all $37.50 per apartment per year.

DOE's efforts to inhibit energy production by substituting piddle power for serious power do not end at the US border. Now, in partnership with China, [1, 10/24/96], the DOE has a program "to jointly promote wind energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy in China." I have no doubt that China will enjoy receiving US taxpayers' money, but they should think twice about what they desire, especially when the largess comes from a US agency with an agenda, and even more so when the agency is in the business of stifling progress.

If there were a large solar-electric plant, it is likely that less oil would be used in some other plant, possibly to the consternation of (say) Amoco. But that is certainly not the case for a 10 MWe photovoltaic plant to be built in Nevada with DOE money [1, 10/24/96], because it would take about 500 of them to equal one average 1000 MWe power plant. (If the arithmetic doesn't look right, remember that the DOE will never tell the average output power from one of their toy plants. The 10 MWe figure represents the peak power, at summer noon in full sunlight. Typically, the average power is about one fifth of the peak power.) Undoubtedly, the folks at Amoco know full well that this is merely a showpiece for the DOE brass to show off to the public; for Amoco, it can only be a diversion from their mission of providing energy. Still, the DOE is willing to supply the money, so they will build the contraption in a joint AMOCO/DOE project.

The geysers at Yellowstone National Park are among the most impressive in the world, but there are other little goodies as well. Hot spots all around the area cause hot water to bubble up, so there are hot pools of mud, hot pools of strong acids, and air that is thick with sulfurous fumes. The DOE, normally content to promote piddle power toys for the rich, has gone well beyond its charter in "GREENING Yellowstone National Park." Their plan, using "alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles to upgrade air quality," is yet another propaganda effort, if only because the pollution from government cars at Yellowstone is but a tiny fraction of the atmospheric pollution produced by the fumeroles, geysers, and hot mud pots. And even if the land itself didn't pollute the air, the number of vehicles with government license plates is but a tiny fraction of the number of tourists' cars. But it's all part of DOE's "Great Ideas for the Next 125 Years." Note yet again that this Great Idea does not involve energy production.

Solar energy has its uses, especially in very remote locations where other sources of energy are unavailable. The Dangling Rope Marina on Lake Powell is accessible only by boat. Therefore the DOE has paid $1.5 million for a photovoltaic/propane hybrid power system that can produce 115 kilowatts of electricity [1, 8/28/97]. This is a cost of about $13 per installed watt, vastly more than a propane- only system would have cost. (Propane obviously is available.)

[1] DOE website: News you can use


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Excerpted from March 1997 The Energy Advocate
Copyright © The Energy Advocate 1997. All rights reserved.