When John Hofmeister talks about what is wrong with the country’s energy system, he points to the Democratic and Republican conventions of 2008.
While one side chanted “no more coal” the other was cheering “drill, baby, drill.”
That, Hofmeister said, is indicative of the simplicity with which we have addressed the problems facing our nation’s complicated energy system.
“Any wonder with that kind of intellectual curiosity and sophisticated analysis that a person who works in this arena might be disappointed?” Hofmeister said. “That is our nation’s leadership.”
As part of the Kansas University Energy Conference, Hofmeister — a former CEO of one of the world’s largest oil companies — talked for more than an hour about what’s wrong with the country’s energy system and provided a solution as to how to fix it.
Author of “Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider,” Hofmeister served as the president of Shell Oil Co. from 2005 to 2008. He is now the head of the nonprofit organization Citizens for Affordable Energy.
He quickly informed the crowd that he was a registered Democrat who was angry at the president and the seven who preceded him. He also wasn’t too pleased with the past 19 Congresses.
“Here’s the problem: We are still living off of the 20th century energy system and don’t have a clue as to what to do with the 21st century,” he said.
According to Hofmeister, here are the energy problems facing the country:
- For renewable energy to make a difference, the industry would have to increase solar and wind farms by 10 times the amount they are currently. And a 1,000-acre wind farm would cause an uproar, Hofmeister said.
- Thanks to rising demand in China, India and other developing countries, by 2015 the world will be consuming close to 95 million barrels of oil a day. Last fall, Hofmeister predicted the nation would be facing gas prices of $5 a gallon by the 2012 presidential election. “This is serious stuff, this is real and it is depressing,” Hofmeister said.
- The country’s energy system of nuclear plants, coal plants and gas lines are aging, but companies are restricted by regulations in building new facilities and drilling.“We aren’t doing what needs to be done to replace the old and we aren’t drilling for oil in a material way to meet our needs,” he said.
- Meanwhile, partisan politics has led to a government that is “dysfunctional, broken and unfixable,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister’s solution is to form an independent regulatory commission similar to what the country did in the early 1900s when the Federal Reserve was formed.
“Let’s take that logic, that precedent and let’s apply it to the governance of energy,” Hofmeister said.
The board would have four functions:
- Determine what sources of energy should be used in the coming decades and transition away from forms of expensive, dirty energy sources.
- Make decisions on what kinds of technology to embrace.
- Replace the Environmental Protection Agency, which Hofmeister said is hindered by constant political upheaval, as the body that regulates the energy industry’s environmental impact.
- Build needed energy infrastructure.
“We need an authority to cut through all this nonsense,” Hofmeister said, and he encouraged the crowd to persuade others to support it.
“The vast majority of the people who consider it say ‘why not?’ The current system is not working. Let’s try something new,” he said.