2014 Symposium: Energy Planning

By: Jacques LeBris Erffmeyer

Energy is one of the most attention-grabbing, contentious, and controversial set of issues in the public sphere today.  Whether from a national security, environmental, or economic lens, energy matters. How, what, and where are all relevant and interconnected questions in regards to energy. In framing an issue relating to energy, it also matters greatly whether one is talking about energy sources, energy production and generation, or energy use.

With that being said, issues in energy planning are therefore among the most important and bear some of the greatest impacts on the future. The Shapiro Symposium brought to the floor discussions of several interesting topics, including: renewable energy development on federal or military lands, Canadian energy projections and planning, and the development of the U.S.’s national petroleum reserves in Alaska. Though the speakers did not intentionally develop their individual presentations with reference to one another, some interesting threads appeared between their talks.

What I found particularly interesting is that as the United States’ federal government and branches of the United States’ armed forces increasingly look to renewable energy, our neighbors to the north (Canada) do not anticipate a significant shift in their non-transportation energy use. The Canadian government’s energy agency only expects to increase wind, for example, from 2-4% of total energy supplies. This pales in comparison to wind energy in the United States, which has expanded significantly in recent years.

The fact that Canada does not expect to expand the share that renewables hold for electric generation should be relatively unsurprising, as vast oil reserves are made available from tar sands mines. Canada, however, expects to decrease the share that petroleum has for electric energy generation. Yet, as natural gas supply from the United States expands rapidly, Canada expects economic forces to cause it to expand the share that natural gas has in electric energy generation. I find this interesting, since it indicates that the United States and Canada will each be exchanging with the other the fossil resource that is most abundant. The impact on renewable energy generation that the explosion of oil development in Canada, and the similar explosion of natural gas development in the United States, will have is yet to be seen—but it does not suggest aggressive expansion of renewables.

To a certain extent, the United States also has access to large amounts of oil in the National Petroleum Reserve, located in the northernmost parts of Alaska. The United States federal government and the branches of the United States’ armed forces, however, are not questioning whether they will expand the use of renewables significantly—the only question is “how.” This too is relatively unsurprising, the United States federal government is consistently struggling with budgetary issues and the armed forces are inherently tactical in nature so renewables provide solutions to each. It should be noted that each of the two governmental actors seeking to expand the use of renewables benefit from both of the benefits of renewables—just as the federal government will benefit from price reliability and stability, so will the military benefit from reductions in cost.

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