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This op-ed originally appeared in the West Virginia Herald-Dispatch on September 3, 2003.
Energy heats and cools our homes and fuels our transportation system. When the August blackout plunged millions of Americans into darkness, it became clear -- without necessary investments and without sound energy policies -- there is no guarantee that the lights will stay on.
President Bush called the blackout "a wake-up call" to modernize the aging infrastructure of the nation’s power grid. The sudden loss of power serves as an important reminder that all energy -- not just electricity -- is critical to the American economy.
Energy has been an abundant, low-priced resource that many in America take for granted today.
Energy policy remains mired in special interest politics.
I spoke with Dr. Wayne T. Brough of the Citizens for Sound Economy just after the blackout. He warned: "Despite the scientific uncertainty surrounding theories of human-induced global warming and mounting evidence suggesting the Kyoto Protocol would have little effect on the global climate, proponents of global warning continue polices that could cost the U. S. economy up to $400 billion annually."
Advocates are pressing Congress to mandate greater use of alternative fuels -- replacing fossil fuels with renewable fuels, such as wind and solar power.
The reality is that these technologies are not developed to the point where they can be deployed on a large scale. In the meantime, legislative mandates and tax credits continue to distort the energy market.
Congress has left energy markets in a lurch. A regulatory and legislative morass is straining the capacities of the existing system.
Energy markets need to keep pace with the growing population and economy.
There are few incentives to invest in the power grid. Red tape and legal challenges stifle attempts to build new transmission lines, and environmentalist mobilize against new generation capacity in all but the most exotic and expensive sources of fuel.
Energy markets have little room to expand and adapt.
Politics, not markets, continue to drive energy issues in the United States. Washington, and, increasingly, state governments are imposing costly mandates on energy providers.
Billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies have done little to make alternative energy sources more practical. Unless Congress can move beyond its parochial views on energy, the potential for new global warming mandates poses a real threat to consumers.
The August power outage is "a wake-up call" for sure. Caps on emissions will mean an economic slowdown with millions of lost jobs and more frequent blackouts.
Alice Click lives in Point Pleasant, W.Va.