Georgia can take leadwith wise energy plan

Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:25pm
By: The Citizen


In the midst of rising energy prices, formulating a comprehensive state energy plan is forward-thinking for Georgia. Policy-makers need to take a commonsense tack, however, and avoid the warm fuzzies that produce politically correct but costly and impractical ideas.

Fortunately, in Georgia, so much already leads down the right path. For example, what is more energy-efficient than free-flowing traffic? From arterial road improvements to diffusing bottlenecks on the state’s highways, the Governor’s Fast Forward program focusing transportation improvements on the neediest corridors shows promising savings in fuel, time, money and the environment.

Add to that the work of the Governor’s Congestion Mitigation Task Force. The state’s transportation agencies, working to set aside varying agendas, expect by year’s end to be able to prioritize projects in a way that achieves, first and foremost, congestion relief. That will produce a safer, efficient and mobility-oriented work force that attracts interest from beyond our borders to promote greater investment in this state’s economy and quality of life.

Georgia government also is moving in the right direction. The governor’s telecommuting initiative for state agencies - a 25 percent goal for flexible work alternatives for employees, from telecommuting to flexible workdays and workweeks - is a model to the private sector of viable alternatives to traditional work patterns.

Trust in telecommuting workers remains an important concern - it’s difficult to oversee workers who are out of sight - but in metro Atlanta’s complicated demographics, such innovative options must be explored and exploited.

The market is responding, too: Look around you in traffic. Motorists being hit in the pocketbook by higher gas prices are choosing smaller cars and alternative-fuel vehicles. With gas prices over three dollars a gallon, people are combining trips, rethinking journeys, car-pooling and downsizing.

Of course, there remains more to energy policy than giving up the SUV for a hybrid or more fuel-efficient auto. Across the nation, fuel supply has not kept up with demand.

The last U.S. refinery built came on line in 1976. Twenty years ago, we had 324 refineries operating at 68.6 percent of capacity. Before this year’s devastating hurricanes, they operated at 92.8 percent of capacity. Now, nobody knows how soon it will be before refineries reach that efficiency again. And backup is nonexistent, thanks to the scare tactics of “NIMBYs” who say yes, but “not in my backyard.”

On the bright side, there is a growing awareness that this nation needs to explore alternative energy sources. Surveys find that Americans are increasingly accepting the need to develop new sources of energy and build U.S. nuclear plants again.

Natural gas is this nation’s most economic “green” fuel, clean and cheap. Despite growing demand and ample resources, however, regulatory excess hampers supply. Activists hinder extraction.

Savannah port authorities are reluctant to allow expansion of the Elba Island facilities for liquefied natural gas (LNG), for example, because navigation channels must be cleared of all ships within three miles of any delivering tanker ship.

There is an urgent need for a streamlined regulatory process, and that has become clear as a state legislative study committee headed by Rep. Mark Burkhalter and Sen. Mitch Seabaugh examines expansion of LNG facilities in Georgia.

“LNG is not the silver bullet, but it’s a step in the right direction toward increasing reliability of Georgia’s energy resources,” says Rep. Bob Smith (R-Watkinsville), a member of the House Committee on Public Utilities and Telecommunications who is involved in the study committee’s efforts.

“We need to diversify our energy resources across the state, and we can get a head start by using new technology as we import LNG from areas with good, dependable, quality supplies.”

Despite the doomsday predictions over energy resources as Georgia and the nation recover from a devastating hurricane season, American ingenuity has proven itself time and again.

For example, today’s average light truck gets better mileage than an average ‘70s compact car; today’s average SUV is more fuel-efficient than the average 1974 car. Today’s coal is cleaner burning; today’s appliances are more energy-efficient, and research into innovation and energy efficiency is ongoing.

Consistent, reliable, safe and cost-effective energy sources are paramount in an era of computers, tight schedules, big houses, air quality concerns and lengthy commutes. A blackout destroys connectivity and freezer contents and endangers health. Energy conservation is a noble and admirable goal and should be encouraged, but takes a back seat amid the economic and quality-of-life priorities of flexibility and mobility in today’s society.

Renewable resources from solar to biomass energy are good to talk about; hybrid and alternative fuels are great to aim for. However, it has become evident with rising gasoline prices that individual responsibility for our choices remains the ultimate energy conservation measure.

Just watch how many conservation-minded Georgians are out there once the first energy bill of this winter arrives.

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy.

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