Governor Bill Richardson’s new energy plan

Bill Richardson, former Ambassador to the United Nations, former Congressman, former Secretary of Energy under President Clinton, now Governor of New Mexico, and one of many Democratic Party candidates for President in 2008, has an energy plan. It’s agressive, it’s wide-ranging, it’s reasonably comprehensive, and it takes global heating seriously.

And Thursday, Governor Richardson presented that plan at a speech before the New America Foundation, a foundation that bills itself as a “nonprofit, post-partisan, public policy institute that was established through the collaborative work of a diverse and intergenerational group of public intellectuals, civic leaders and business executives.” (see their mission statement here) I’m actually looking forward to reading through the McKinsey Global Institute paper: Curbing Global Energy Demand Growth: The Energy Productivity Opportunity (registration required) that was presented after Gov. Richardson’s speech and will post my thoughts when I’ve finished reading it.

What Gov. Richardson’s energy plan boils down to is this:

  • Cut oil demand by 50% by 2020 through a combination of electric and plug-in vehicles, alternative fuels, and increasing MPG standards for vehicles to 50 MPG average.
  • Generate 50% of our electricity via renewables by 2040 through a combination of geothermal, solar, wind, and clean coal.
  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050 through renewable energy generation, reduced oil demand, carbon sequestration, and market-based cap-and-trade systems
  • Leading the world in retooling our carbon economy and by negotiating with both developed and developing countries over global heating, creating a North American Energy Council with Canada and Mexico, and working with the UN and Persian Gulf nations on protecting the oil wealth in the Gulf from threats foreign and domestic.
  • And do all the other things by carefully repealing subsidies, taxing carbon emissions via the cap-and-trade system, and ensuring that all the changes pay for themselves.

Now, as someone who’s studied this a decent amount, I’m not sure I understand his call for “low-carbon” liquid fuels, and he doesn’t explain what he’s talking about either in his speech or on his website. Maybe he’s talking using more natural gas fueled vehicles, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but those are the only two possibilities I can think of. In addition, he doesn’t discuss nuclear power at all, focusing instead on clean coal, something I think is a significant error on his part. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the detailed white paper he alludes to in his speech on Gov. Richardson’s candidacy website, because I’d really like to compare what he’s come up with to what I have come up with, and will be posting on the Dr. Slammy in ’08 site before too long.

However, unlike too many people, Gov. Richardson says point blank that doing all these things will be difficult. It will cause our economy to slow down slightly as we retool our energy supplies from carbon-based to non-carbon based and carbon-neutral. But the threats to national security, public health, and even to our economy are too grave not to take global heating seriously.

You can check out his actual speech at here. In my opinion, he needs to get better about sounding natural with a teleprompter than he did in this speech, but that will (I hope) come with practice.

And what about the two supposed “front runners?” Hillary Clinton’s a href=””>page on global warming is vaguely worded and very, very short on details. Barak Obama’s energy and environment page has much better detail, but some of the details are obviously ploys to get the Iowa vote (namely corn ethanol, an idea that is simply rock stupid). In fact, Sen. Obama’s page has more of the very details that I want Gov. Richardson to make available in that white paper he mentioned.

We’re powering our civilization with solar energy that was stored over millions of years by plants that have since turned into coal and oil. We can’t keep doing this, and I’m glad to see the Democratic presidential candidates taking it seriously.

[Crossposted: The Daedalnexus, The 5th Estate]

9 replies »

  1. I guess I need to MAKE time in the next few days to work through that energy policy draft of yours for DS08, huh? Can’t let half-good ideas get out in the front of all-good ones….

  2. I wouldn’t call mine all good, but it’s a darn sight better on the detail than most, and it’s probably better researched than most too.

    It’s also not going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes – retooling our energy supply will require retooling our entire economy and, to some respect, our entire civilization. And as such, it’s going to be a monumental undertaking the size of which most people just don’t get (Thomas Friedman, who put out the singularly mediocre documentary Green – the new Red, White, and Blue, get’s closer than most, but even he’s not explaning the scale of the problem well enough. Of course, that may be because the scale of the problem is so huge as to be difficult to explain well.)

  3. Thanks for the insights, Brian. I’m no scientist, and I always appreciate your “clean and clear” analyses of “technically thick” issues like this vital energy policy/behavior change we must make.
    I’m really grateful to you for pointing out the stupidity of corn-based ethanol. My knee jerk reaction when car makers and oil companies began touting this was “this is BS promoted as helping us – it’s using food to run vehicles – that’s nuts.” To hear a “science smart” guy have a similar reaction makes me feel better about my instincts.
    One last note – I’m with you that we’ve got to implement nuclear energy for power generation for homes, offices, etc. Any notions about how that can be sold to folks so as to keep the “no nukes” crowd (of which I was one once, admittedly) from creating the fear campaigns they used so successfully in the ’70’s to undermine the building of nuke power plants? I mean, the French have used nukes widely for at least 40 years and they’ve done a good job of both handling the responsibility of running nuke plants and creating reasonable goodwill from the public toward them. Any chance we can accomplish that here?

  4. Every time I hear about “electric” cars I think: Battery disposal? And: How will the electricity that powers the cars get generated? More “clean coal” plants? And: Can “coal” really be “clean”?

    Thanks for the post, Brian. 🙂

  5. Right, Denny. This is why our energy future has to be about de-carbonizing the cycle. In the shorter term we need to squeeze more out of renewables (hydro, wind, solar) and nukular. Work toward hydrogen as an intermediate step. And pursue long-term solutions like fusion.

    There’s no real way around coal in the near term, so “clean” technologies are necessary for the moment. And Brian is rapidly becoming one more hellacious expert on the subject – he’s going to be Energy Sec. when I’m elected.

  6. This “Energy Plan” is just a goal list. So far in NM all he’s done is mandate that the power companies bring on more renewables. So we are looking at a 12.3% rise in electricity rates in the immediate future. hard on the poor of which NM has many. For the well to do NM has rebates for buying a hybid car, a home PV system or builfding a certified enery saving home. All good but affecting only those with $$.

    He also suggests getting rid of nuclear waste by shooting it up into the atmosphere.

    [4:01]Question: [Mostly inaudible but regarding Yucca Mountain.]

    [4:08] Bill Richardson: I believe that it

  7. Battery disposal is a big deal, as is safety in accidents (both for the vehicle and it’s occupants as well as for anyone trying to rescue someone in an electric or hybrid vehicle). But it’s manageable. Most of the materials in large-scale batteries are recyclable, if for no other reason than they’re big enough to make recycling worthwhile.

    As for generating the power for electric cars, most of it’ll be coal. Luckily (?), large-scale power plants are single point sources of CO2, and capturing it all from one place is a whole lot easier than trying to capture CO2 from every single tailpipe. As for whether coal can truly be clean, that depends on how you define clean. Even if you go to coal gassification and extract all the heavy metals that way, you’ve still got CO2 to worry about. Carbon sequestration supposedly works, but we don’t have a single large-scale plant running it yet, and since it takes roughtly 30% of the plant’s output to do it, you’ll need to tax carbon pretty heavily to make it economical (yep, it’s possible that a poorly designed carbon tax or cap/trade system would make emissions cheaper than sequestration). But even if you call that “clean,” what about coal mining itself? Mountaintop removal isn’t exactly clean – just ask people living in small West Virginia towns that are either buried under the mountaintop or are downstream of the tailings.

    Unfortunately, while nuclear power is the “cleanest” large-scale power source currently available (geothermal would probably be cleaner overall) when you talk pollution and CO2, but it’s only marginally better than coal when it comes down to mining.

  8. Sam D. – there’s all sorts of good ways to handle radioactive waste, but you’re right, rocketing it into space isn’t one of them. Burying it is by far the smartest way to go. Just not necessarily in Yucca Mountain.

    I’m partial to deep core boreholes or oceanic trench disposal of glassified waste myself.

  9. Booth – We need to sell nuclear by reframing it as a zero-CO2 emissions technology and pointing out that there are solutions to the waste problem. Also, we need to start phasing out the old, Gen 2 reactors and replacing them with Gen 3 and 3+ reactors that a) produce a lot less waste, b) have passive protections against meltdown that rely on the laws of physics to work, not humans or machinery, and c) can be breeders more easily than the Gen 2 reactors currently on line.

    It’ll take some re-education, a lot of reframing, and probably some legislative changes to the system too.