Global warming task force hears peak oil message

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Larry Walker delivered the following testimony on behalf of himself and the Madison Peak Oil Group to the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming:

My name is Larry Walker, and I was a participant in the Transportation working group last fall. I am here today on behalf of the Madison Peak Oil Group and would like to make some observations from that perspective.

I've spent a number of hours closely reading the Interim report, and overall my reaction is "Where's the Beef?"

The Interim Report falls far short of meeting the Governor's mandate to roll Wisconsin's greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels. True, one of the recommendations proposes reducing electrical consumption by 2% and natural gas by 1each year through 2024. But a close reading discloses that these reductions are only relative to the Reference Case. The Reference Case projects emissions growing at about 1% per year, so the recommendation actually proposes essentially no change in natural gas and only a 1% per year reduction in electricity. And that's against 2004 levels, which are already 16% above the 1990 target.

Examining the other 8 recommendations shows that most of them list the amount of GHG reduction as TBD: To Be Defined, no quantitative estimate made. Three of them do, commendably, given numeric estimates annual savings. But the sum of these is only 3 million tons per year, or 2% of the 2024 Reference Case.

Of course I understand that this is only an interim report, that the final report will include a number of recommendations from the working groups. But as I surveyed the documents from the Transportation group, I saw that most of its recommendations also listed TBD for annual reductions. I understand that these are awaiting the results of the TAG modeling exercise, but again, digging deeper into the working group's documents, I saw that most of the Transportation group's recommendations are not scheduled to be modeled.

So I have a great concern that the final report will not contain clearly documented quantitative results. Without these results, the report cannot be taken seriously as a commitment to get back to 1990 levels.

Finally, on behalf of the Madison Peak Oil Group, I would like to point out that even 1990 levels of energy consumption are likely to be unsustainable. A flat or declining level of world fossil fuel production can already be seen. Strong growth in energy demand from developing countries is equally evident. This combination virtually guarantees that, either through inadequate physical supply or by unaffordable prices, Americans will be forced to make very, very significant reductions in energy consumption.

While this would appear to be good news from a greenhouse gas perspective, it means that modest incremental programs will not do much to help the citizens and businesses of Wisconsin make a comfortable transition to a low-energy economy. The Governor's Task Force needs to propose strong, actionable programs that will reward those who make major reductions and, yes, punish those who do not.

Too many of the recommendations use words like "support", "encourage", "study", "track", "recognize" and "influence". While useful, such approaches are no substitute for hard policies, substantial tax credits, and mandated changes in behavior. These kinds of measures will be politically unpalatable, but not nearly as much so as houses going unheated and businesses closing down when serious energy shortages set in.

A good starting place would be a complete rewrite of the "Improved and Innovative Rate Designs" section of the Interim Report. No matter how closely I read it, I cannot see any indication that it even suggests, let alone requires, real and effective changes in rate structures. Wisconsin desperately needs to enact tiered rates for electricity and natural gas, similar to those in effect in California: low base-rates for modest consumption can protect lower income households, while sharply-increasing rates for higher levels of consumption will give predictable and concrete incentives to conserve. But nothing in that section actually says this needs to be

I strongly urge the Task Force to use this "teachable moment" to send a wake-up call to the people and businesses of Wisconsin. It does them no favor by making recommendations that take many years to phase in and at best only return us to a level of energy usage that will not be sustainable even in 5-10 years, let alone out to 2024 or 2050...

Thank you.
Other news coverage of the task force hearing appeared in the La Crosse Tribune.