Nation's leaders urge action on
better electricity grid
Feb 23, 2009 - CNN
|Former President Clinton, Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid and UN Foundation President
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. political,
business and environmental leaders urged the nation
Monday to act quickly to build a unified, national
electricity grid, both to diminish the impact of global
warming and to boost the economy.
"We need to move with a sense of urgency,"
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at a forum called
the National Clean Energy Project: Building the New
Economy, which was hosted by the Center for American
Progress Action Fund.
"We need a very, very smart grid,"
said the Nobel laureate physicist and former director
of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Countries in Asia are outpacing the
United States in such work, which includes more efficient
power transmission lines, he said.
The Department of Energy plans to invest
in research to devise better means of increasing and
decreasing the voltage that flows along those lines
so that communities can tap into "off-ramps" built
into the power highway, much as they can use off ramps
designed into the nation's interstate highways, Chu
He compared the nation's current system
of delivering power to the way water is delivered.
"We put water in a tower, and it flows downhill into
our homes and businesses," he said. "We put electrical
energy at high voltage, and it flows downhill."
But, under a smart system, electricity
would be able to flow in more than one direction,
he said, adding that his agency plans to invest in
ways to tap into solar and wind power to create grids
that can support two-way flows of electricity.
The biggest bottleneck, he said, is
the failure of industry to agree on a single standard
so that different systems could interact with one
"What we really need is to lock these
people up in a room and say, 'Come out with a standard
in a few weeks.' "
Until such a standard is set, community
leaders will be reluctant to invest in the kinds of
smart grids that will conserve energy, reduce dependence
on foreign oil and slow global warming, he said.
He praised civic leaders in Boulder,
Colorado, for their "act of courage" in moving forward
That's because, when a standard finally
is set, the city's investment in a smart grid "may
be obsolete," Chu said.
Former President Clinton warned that
a failure to come together on a national plan "will
compromise our national security" and hurt the nation's
Previous efforts, he said, have failed
as prices for imported oil have fluctuated.
"Every time oil dropped, people said,
'Gimme my Hummer back,' " Clinton said. "That's not
what they're saying now. ... We know this is the key
to our job growth."
He called for some of the money being
poured into the economy by President Obama's stimulus
plan to be directed toward boosting the nation's ability
to create and use clean energy.
Former Vice President Al Gore said that
so long as the economy remains shackled to fluctuating
oil prices, the nation is vulnerable.
"This roller coaster is headed for a
crash, and we're in the front car," said Gore, whose
environmental work won him the Nobel Peace Prize in
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted
that "the status quo folks will try to stop this,"
but she said the nation has a responsibility to act.
"It is our moral responsibility to preserve this planet,"
Billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens
said that Mexico, which exports 1.4 million barrels
of oil per day to its neighbor to the north, has limited
reserves and will itself need to begin importing oil
within five years. That could mean the United States
would have to turn to the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries to make up the shortfall, he said.
"I want to stop that if we possibly
can," he said. "We have got to solve the problem with
our own resources."
Doing so would require not only a new
grid but a plan to retrofit homes and buildings to
improve their energy efficiency and to increase power
generated from wind and solar sources, he said. Video
Watch Pickens talk about energy policy »
The octogenarian said quick action
is critical. "I'm running out of time," he said.
The nation's economic mess could prove
helpful in advancing the cause, said John Podesta,
former chief of staff under President Clinton and
now the president and CEO of the Center for American
Progress, which hosted the meeting.
"We can't let this crisis go to waste,"
he said. "These are national problems; they require
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said
that any such effort would need help from the federal
government to succeed. He noted that development of
the nation's highways and railroads both were aided
by federal programs.
"Everyone should get off the kick that
this program won't work if the government is involved
in it," he said.