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Korin & Woolsey "Turning Oil into Salt" -- The Subtleties of Energy Independence

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  • Felix Kramer
    In addition to electricity being cheaper and cleaner than gasoline, it s also domestic. Less than 3% of the electricity we generate in the US comes from
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2007
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      In addition to electricity being "cheaper and cleaner" than gasoline,
      it's also "domestic." Less than 3% of the electricity we generate in
      the US comes from imported oil. So plug-in cars are very attractive
      to those interested in ending our "addiction to oil" and the
      international consequences of dependency on imported oil.

      Some have argued that the pursuit of the goal of "energy
      independence" is naive and unachievable. In National Review magazine,
      in response to a report from the Council on Foreign Relations, two
      champions of plug-in hybrid cars, R. James Woolsey, a former director
      of Central Intelligence, and Anne Korin, co-director of the Institute
      for the Analysis of Global Security, provide a direct and very
      sophisticated perspective on the issue.

      Incidentally, both are founding members of the Set America Free
      Coalition http://www.setamericafree.org , one of the main forces
      behind the DRIVE Act, much of which was included in this summer's
      Energy Bill. But the PHEV provisions in the DRIVE Act (also drafted
      as something the President would be likely to sign) are in limbo as
      there's still no schedule for a House-Senate conference. (The
      politics are complex, since the Senate version includes increased
      corporate average fleet efficiency (CAFE) standards and the House
      version includes utility renewable portfolio (RPS) standards.)

      Turning Oil into Salt
      We must become independent -- not just of imported oil, but of oil itself.
      National Review, Sept 25, 2007
      By R. James Woolsey & Anne Korin

      A determined pack has begun to race its engines and to try to
      shoulder us off the road toward energy independence. It's time for
      those determined to stay on the track to drive aggressively.

      The energy-independence question is really about oil -- the rest of
      U.S. energy use presents important issues, but not the danger of our
      being subject to the control of nations that "do not particularly
      like us," as the president put it. Some of the engine racers have an
      economic interest in keeping our transportation system 97 percent
      oil-dependent. Less understandable are the authors of a recent
      Council on Foreign Relations report accusing those working for such
      independence of "doing the nation a disservice."

      The authors of that report and their followers define "independence,"
      contrary to both Webster's and common sense, as essentially "autarky"
      -- i.e. complete self-sufficiency, or not importing oil even though
      we remain dependent on it.. Such a Pickwickian definition captures
      none of the thinking of serious advocates of reducing our oil
      dependence: The point of independence is not to be an economic
      hermit, but rather to be a free actor.

      It is true that some who promote oil independence spice their remarks
      by implying that we might substitute oil from domestic sources or
      from our near neighbors for cheap Middle Eastern imports, and somehow
      manage to insulate ourselves from the world oil market.

      But speechwriters' tropes shouldn't be taken as serious policy
      proposals. Geology will not cooperate in any such fantasy. There is
      no reasonable way that we can leave oil in place as the
      near-exclusive fuel for the world's transportation systems and
      simultaneously wall ourselves off from the world oil market. If we
      want to end dependence on the whims of OPEC's despots, the
      substantial instabilities of the Middle East, and the indignity of
      paying for both sides in the War on Terror, we must define oil
      "independence" sensibly -- as doing whatever is necessary to avoid
      oil's being the instrument of despotic leverage and foreign chaos.

      Those who won our independence as a nation didn't just fling imported
      tea into Boston harbor -- they did whatever was necessary to wrest
      themselves from British control. We need not call out the Minutemen,
      but to avoid the consequences of dependence we must become
      independent -- not just of imported oil, but of oil itself.

      Dooes this mean that we cannot use oil or import any? Of course not.
      Oil is a useful commodity that can readily transport energy long
      distances. It already has competition from natural gas in industry
      and from gas and electricity for heating. But in transportation it
      brooks no competition -- it is thus not just a commodity but a
      strategic commodity. Oil's monopoly on transportation gives
      intolerable power to OPEC and the nations that dominate oil ownership
      and production. This monopoly must be broken. To tell us that in
      following this path we are doing a "disservice to the nation" and
      should resign ourselves to oil dependence is like telling us we
      should not urge an alcoholic to stop drinking but should rather
      impress upon him the health advantages of red wine.

      Not long ago, technology broke the power of another strategic
      commodity. Until around the end of the nineteenth century salt had
      such a position because it was the only means of preserving meat. Odd
      as it seems today, salt mines conferred national power and wars were
      even fought over control of them.

      Today, no nation sways history because it has salt mines. Salt is
      still a useful commodity for a range of purposes. We import some
      salt, so if one defines independence as autarky we are not "salt
      independent". But to most of us there is no "salt dependence" problem
      at all -- because electricity and refrigeration decisively ended
      salt's monopoly of meat preservation, and thus its strategic importance.

      We can and must do the same thing to oil. By moving toward utilizing
      the batteries that have been developed for modern electronics we can
      rather soon have "plug-in hybrids" that travel 20-40 miles on an
      inexpensive charge of night-time off-peak electricity at a small
      fraction of gasoline's cost. (After driving that distance plug-ins
      keep going as ordinary hybrids.) Dozens of ordinary hybrids converted
      to plug-ins now on the road are getting in the range of 100 mpg of
      gasoline. And millions of flexible-fuel vehicles are also now in the
      fleet. Producing them adds costs well under $100 and they can use up
      to 85 of percent ethanol (before long to be made from biomass rather
      than corn) --methanol, butanol, and other alternative fuels produced
      from grasses and even waste.

      A flex-fuel plug-in hybrid that gets 100 mpg and, when it needs
      liquid fuel, uses only 15 percent gasoline, is approaching a utility
      of 500 mpg. Other oil-breaking technologies are coming. When
      Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, the newly-independent Americans
      asked their band to play "The World Turned Upside Down." Get ready
      for a reprise.

      Here's the report to which this column is a response:

      Council on Foreign Relations
      National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency
      John Deutch, Former Director of Central Intelligence and Former
      Undersecretary of Energy
      James R. Schlesinger, Former Defense and Energy Secretary
      David G. Victor, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Science and Technology

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      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
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