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Jewish World Review June 6, 2001 / 16 Sivan 5761

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

The Idiot`s Guide to Energy -- ENERGY isn't a complicated issue. But since certain people -- Democrats, bureaucrats, enviros -- have spent decades avoiding a rendezvous with reality, they require a road map. Presented for their edification is an Idiot's Guide to Energy.

1) If you want more energy, build more power plants and refineries, and drill, drill, drill. For 30 years, we've done the opposite. It hasn't worked.

America consumes more energy than any other nation. In the next two decades, demand is expected to grow by 25 percent.

But we haven't built a new large refinery in 25 years. (Since 1992, we've closed 37.) Those still functioning are operating at 97 percent capacity. Domestic oil production has declined from 9.6 million barrels a day in 1970 to 5.8 million last year. In the words of the Cole Porter song, "Somethin' gotta give."

2) Price caps work well -- if your goal is increased consumption and decreased production. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham says price controls "make a problem a disaster, and a disaster a catastrophe."

Since 1996, California's political establishment has artificially held down the cost of electricity by capping consumer prices. (Utilities were allowed some increases this spring.) As a result, California ranks dead last among the states in power production per capita. Now Gov. Gray Davis wants caps on what utilities pay for energy, which should be a big incentive to companies that generate power. Why settle for a barge mishap when you can have the Titanic? 3) Conservation won't solve the problem.

Consumers can use their air conditioners less in the summer and turn thermostats down in winter. But you can't meet the increased energy needs of a population expected to grow by 50 million in the next 20 years by unscrewing light bulbs.

As for alternative energy sources (wind, solar, ethanol), by 2020 they will supply a whopping 3 percent of U.S. electricity.

4) Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge isn't environmental rape. It doesn't even constitute an indiscrete glance at Mother Nature.

There are at least 11 billion barrels of oil there, the equivalent of 30 years of imports from Saudi Arabia. President George Bush is proposing to use a flyspeck of the refuge's 19 million acres. Since oil operations began in Prudhoe Bay, the area's caribou herds have increased fivefold. As the resource would be developed only during the Artic winter, the environmental impact would be negligible.

5) Nuclear is a crucial component of our energy mix.

Though it's been 20 years since an order was placed for a nuclear power plant, the 103 plants in operation supply 20 percent of our electricity. Without them, in 1999, other forms of power generation would have resulted in carbon dioxide emissions equal to that released by half the nation's cars and light trucks.

In 1999, the cost of generating a kilowatt hour was 3.52 cents for a natural-gas fired plant, 3.24 cents for oil, 2.07 cents for coal and 1.83 cents for nuclear. There's a greater chance of Ralph Nader spontaneously combusting than a nuclear reactor experiencing a meltdown.

6) Dependence on foreign imports makes us vulnerable to embargoes and blackmail.

Our dependence on foreign oil has increased from 36 percent in the '70s to 56 percent today. The friendly nation of Iraq is our fastest growing supplier -- at 613,000 barrels a day under the oil for food program. On Monday, Saddam Hussein suspended all exports because the United Nations is considering a new sanctions plan. If other oil-exporting states, most in volatile regions, decide to start shutting off the tap, we'll be up to our necks in something other than crude.

7) Energy shortages lead to lost jobs and economic slowdowns.

Small- to medium-size businesses, which employ over half the workforce, are particularly vulnerable to increased energy costs. Large corporations, whose work could be done overseas, demand a reliable energy source. Intel says it won't expand operations in California until the state solves its power problems.

The Sierra Club may think the move to a smaller America is beautiful. The average worker, consumer and businessman will like it a lot less.

Policy-makers and opinion-shapers are urged to meditate on the above, before the unemployment lines begin to form and the lights start to dim.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate