Navigant Research Blog

U.K. and U.S. Energy Policies Poles Apart

Richard Martin — February 28, 2012

Beverly Simpson, the new consul general at the British Consulate in Denver, hosted a lunch in downtown Denver today featuring special guests Vice Admiral (ret.) Dennis McGinn, now the president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE); and Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the climate and energy security envoy for the United Kingdom.  I had a particular interest in hearing the naval officers speak since Pike Research has published a few reports, including last year’s Renewable Energy for Military Applications, on cleantech and the military.

The admirals’ comments were a strong indicator that the military has moved far beyond civilian elected officials, at least in the United States, in thinking about the future of energy security and innovation.  Morisetti called climate change a “threat multiplier” that will fuel conflicts and promote instability in many parts of the world, particularly Africa and the Middle East.  And he joined McGinn in lamenting the absence of a coherent and forward-looking energy policy in the United States.  “My faith in the U.S. system, quite frankly, had taken a hit over the last two years as I’ve been traveling around with Admiral McGinn,” said Morisetti.  “I had always known the United States as a place where, when there’s a problem, the intellectual and financial resources were harnessed and the problem was taken on directly.  I haven’t seen that in regards to energy security.” (Morisetti did mention that, in the last 36 hours of his visit to Colorado, “my faith has been restored.”)

Interestingly, much of the conversation over lunch centered not on renewables but on natural gas – specifically, the implications of the surge in domestic natural gas supplies that has brought the price down to below $5 per million BTU and is pricing many wind and solar generation projects out of the market.  McGinn, for one, was sanguine about the long-term prospects for renewables competing with natural gas plants.

“We’ve been down this road before, of falling in love with a single energy source,” the former vice admiral said.  “I think there’s a natural synergy between renewables, particularly wind and solar, and using low-cost natural gas generation for firming.” McGinn added that given the environmental challenges the natural gas industry is facing, particularly around fracking, he doesn’t expect the price to stay this low forever.

The other theme of the gathering was the sharp differences between the United Kingdom and the United States around the challenges of climate change and energy security.  “We have a broad political consensus” around the need to face up to climate change and devise sensible and effective policies to limit it, Morisetti said – something that cannot be said about the U.S.  “I’m always amused when I hear a BMW dealer in the U.S. talking about his models that get 25 miles to the gallon.  If you go to Germany, you’ll hear them talking about 70 to 80 kilometers [42 to 48 miles] to the gallon.  And it’s the same company.”

“If I were king of the world for a day,” McGinn stated, “I’d do two things:  Eliminate all subsidies, for fossil fuels, renewables, everything.  And institute a carbon tax that would enable a smooth transition to sustainable sources of energy.”

Strong talk from a former naval officer.  Let’s hope someone in Washington, where ACORE is based, starts listening.

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