BERNIE SANDER’S ENERGY PLAN

May 1, 2016


As you probably know, I don’t “DO” politics.  I stay with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  In other words, subjects I actually know something about.  With that being the case, I do feel the technical community must have definite opinions relative to pronouncements made by our politicians.  Please keep in mind; most politicians have other than technical degrees so they are dependent upon input from individuals in the STEM professions.  That’s really what this post is about—opinions relative to Senator Sander’s Energy Plan. (NOTE: My facts are derived from Senator Sander’s web site and Design News Daily Magazine.  Mr. Charles Murray wrote an article in March detailing several points of Sander’s plan. )

Sanders’ ideas seemingly represent a growing viewpoint with the American population at large. He fared fairly well in the Iowa caucuses and won the New Hampshire primary election although history indicates he will not be the Democratic candidate facing the GOP representative unless Secretary Clinton is indicted by the FBI.  I personally feel this has a snowball’s chance of happening.    Sanders’ popularity provides an opportunity for engineers to weigh in on some of the hard issues facing the country in the energy arena. We want to know:  How do seasoned engineers react to some of his ideas? Let’s look first at a brief statement from “Bernie” relative to his ideas on energy.

“Right now, we have an energy policy that is rigged to boost the profits of big oil companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell at the expense of average Americans. CEO’s are raking in record profits while climate change ravages our planet and our people — all because the wealthiest industry in the history of our planet has bribed politicians into complacency in the face of climate change. Enough is enough. It’s time for a political revolution that takes on the fossil fuel billionaires, accelerates our transition to clean energy, and finally puts people before the profits of polluters.”

                                                                                                — Senator Bernie Sanders

THE GOALS

Bernie’s comprehensive plan to combat climate change and insure our planet is habitable and safe for our kids and grandkids will:

  • Cut U.S. carbon pollution by forty percent (40%) by 2030 and by over eighty percent (80%) by 2050 by 1.) putting a tax on carbon pollution, 2.) repealing fossil fuel subsidies and 3.) Making massive investments in energy efficiency and clean, sustainable energy such as wind and solar power.
  • Create a Clean-Energy Workforce of ten (10) million good-paying jobs by creating a one hundred percent (100%) clean energy system. Transitioning toward a completely nuclear-free clean energy system for electricity, heating, and transportation is not only possible and affordable it will create millions of good jobs, clean up our air and water, and decrease our dependence on foreign oil.
  • Return billions of dollars to consumers impacted by the transformation of our energy system and protect the most vulnerable communities in the country suffering the ravages of climate change. Bernie will tax polluters causing the climate crisis, and return billions of dollars to working families to ensure the fossil fuel companies don’t subject us to unfair rate hikes. Bernie knows that climate change will not affect everyone equally – disenfranchised minority communities and the working poor will be hardest hit. The carbon tax will also protect those most impacted by the transformation of our energy system and protect the most vulnerable communities in the country suffering the ravages of climate change.

THE PLAN:

  1. Acceleration Away from Fossil Fuels. Sanders proposes a carbon tax that he believes would reduce carbon pollution 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. He also wants to ban Arctic oil drilling, ban offshore drilling, stop pipeline projects like the Keystone XL, stop exports of liquefied natural gas and crude oil, ban fracking for natural gas, and ban mountaintop removal coal mining.  Ban fossil fuels lobbyists from working in the White House. Massive lobbying and unlimited super PAC donations by the fossil fuel industry gives these profitable companies disproportionate influence on our elected leaders. This practice is business as usual in Washington and it is not acceptable. Heavy-handed lobbying causes climate change skepticism. It has no place in the executive office.
  2. Investment in Clean Sustainable Energy. Sanders proposes investments in development of solar, wind, and geothermal energy plants, as well as cellulosic ethanol, algae-based fuels, and energy storage. As part of his move to cleaner energy sources, he is also calling for a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the US.
  3. Revolutionizing of Electric Transportation Infrastructure. To begin ridding the country of tailpipe emissions, Sanders wants to build electric vehicle charging stations, as well as high-speed passenger rail and cargo systems. Funds, he says, would also be needed to update and modernize the existing energy grid. Finally, he is calling for extension of automotive fuel economy standards to 65 mpg, instead of the planned 54.5 mpg, by 2025.
  4. Reclaiming of Our Democracy from the Fossil Fuel Lobby. Sanders wants to ban fossil fuel lobbyists from the White House. More importantly, he is proposing a “climate justice plan” that would bring deniers to justice “so we can aggressively tackle climate change.” He has already called for an investigation of Exxon Mobil, his website says.

COMMENTS FROM ENGINEERS:

  • As engineers we should recognize the value of confronting real problems rather than dwelling on demagoguery. Go Bernie.  This comment is somewhat generic but included because there is an incredible quantity of demagoguery in political narrative today.  Most of what we here is without specifics.
  • “Without fuel, we have no material or energy to manufacture anything. Plastics, fertilizer (food), metals, medicine –- all rely on fuel … We are not going to reduce our need for fuel by eighty percent (80%) without massive technology breakthroughs.”  I might add, those breakthroughs are decades away from being cost effective.
  • “I like the idea of renewable energy and I think there are many places in which we are on the right track. A big question is how fast it takes to get there. The faster the transition, the more pain will occur … The slower the transition, the more comfortably we’ll all be able to adapt.”
  • “Imagine if we had rolling power outages throughout the United States on a daily basis because of the shutdown of coal or nuclear power plants.”
  • Another engineer wrote that “the actual numbers of death and cancer risks associated with all the nuclear disasters from Three Mile Island to (Chernobyl) and the Fukushima plant pale in comparison to the result of death and misery of coal and fossil fuel power plants supplying most of our electricity today and for the foreseeable future.”
  • Another commenter said that “for Sanders to rid the US of fossil fuels, he must be one hundred percent (100%) in favor of nuclear energy. No amount of wind, solar, or geothermal will ever replace an ever-growing energy need.”
  • Little or no attention in the forum was paid to the issue of intermittency –- in particular, whether a grid that’s heavy in renewables would be plagued by intermittency problems and, if so, how that might be solved. Intermittent problems where no electrical power will NOT be tolerated by the US population.  I think that’s a given.  We are dependent upon electrical energy.  This certainly includes needed security.

As a parting shot we read: “I am suggesting that folks carefully examine the record of those yelling the loudest, and then decide what to believe,” noted reader William K. “As engineering professionals, we should always be examining the history as well as the current.”

I would offer a sanity check:  WE WILL NEVER COMPLETELY REMOVE OURSELVES FROM THE PRODUCTS PROVIDED BY FOSSIL FUELS.  We must get over it.  As always, I welcome your comments.

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