History: Memo to the Co-Director of the Governor’s Energy Office Project, November 2016
[The memo reproduced below was my way of coming to terms explicitly with the issues raised by an initiative being undertaken by the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) in 2016. My 2016 summer study effort and survey – the so-called ‘Energy Quest’ documented on this site – had led me to conclude based on conversation and e-mail communication with GEO staff that what they were doing may have been planning but not the kind I thought it was important to advance. My written request for a scope of work for the project was ignored, and owing to a then current controversy arising from a prickly response from the Governor to a legislator’s FOIA request, I elected not to pursue the same approach on the GEO grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Instead, I sent an FOIA request to USDOE and within a couple of weeks had it in hand and read. Subsequently, I learned that the project co-director, Jeff Marks, was to give a presentation on the project at a presentation at the UMaine Orono George Mitchell Center on Sustainability. At the presentation I elected not to ask the questions I had prepared, but instead shared them with Marks at the end, and subsequently prepared the memo reproduced below. He and I have not yet had the chance to discuss its points as we mutually agreed. The pdf of the project Scope of Work is accessible at the end of the memo. One element of the Scope of Work is a series of meetings across the state to provide opportunities for input from “stakeholders” (as, in my view, the project inadequately defines them). In conversation with GEO staff that was all supposed to roll out in the fall and winter. I asked to be notified. To date (2/3/17) I have received nothing, not does it appear that the GEO website pertaining to News and Events has anything more recent posted on it than September, 2016.] [Update 4/13/18: The GEO website remains unchanged. The 6/16 and two 7/14 postings are still the most recent postings shown! Promises from both the GEO and Marks for direct notice of the stakeholder meetings have borne no fruit.]
November 9, 2016
I promised you I’d send before Expo some commentary based on my several readings of the DOE funded scope of work, your October 24 presentation, and subsequent review of the power point materials I came away from it all with a much clearer understanding of the project and where and why our perspectives are similar as well as how they differ. I’m not clear in my own mind (it’s far too early for that) on how or even whether the perceived
differences can be easily resolved especially given the “climate on climate” within the state, but I can start by quoting a now-departed physicist colleague who was fond of saying that “anything worth doing was worth doing badly.” (He was a creative genius, addicted to irony itself as a stimulus to inquiry, and a pedagogue in the finest sense of the term who
understood that learning by doing was both an arena and a process wherein close analysis of mistakes and failure could reap great reward. Jerrold Zacharias (MIT), the genius behind PSSC physics, was a 60’s educational reform hero for me, and I’d like to think I honor his memory with this little exposition.)
A Shared Starting Point
My sense is the project you are leading (as the quest I have been embarked upon) comes out of a similar sense of frustration over the planning of Maine’s energy future, and in fact it has been piecemeal, episodic, jumbled, plagued by internal contradictions, to say nothing of an almost Byzantine policy structure. You are a leader in the energy and environmental tech sector. In conversation you acknowledged that its insufficiencies are what led you to identify Federal funding and team up with the the Governor’s Energy Office to get something going. While my starting point was different (e.g., long familiarity with the structures and processes of public policy, a background in long range futures, an impending sense of crisis from rapidly unfolding changes arising from the complexities of humanity’s unwitting dependence on seemingly cheap fossil fuels), my sense is that we share both frustration and a sense of urgency. That’s important, partly because it’s a key similarity but also because it makes us very much outliers (not always a very comfortable place to be).
Differences #1 and 2 – Conceptualization of Stakeholders; Conceptualization of Aims
You have been very clear on this score. You have a deep concern for how the technology sector for energy/environment can be mobilized for the future. As executive director of E2TECH, that is entirely appropriate and no big surprise. And I agree with its importance. But I also think it is too narrow, particularly as applied to the scale of the intersections between energy, environment, industry, and society as they will play themselves out in the 21st century. The aims of energy planning in the current era must rise far above the tactical to embrace fully the strategic aim required of us and the rest of the globe. We cannot guarantee what others will do, but we can be assured that if we do not rise to the part we have responsibility for, we will contribute directly to the diminution of others’ sense of obligation to participate. Worldwide, we are all in this together; each of us must figure out how to do our part. And the strategic aim is bringing us back – if we can – to a balance worldwide between our sources of energy and a healthy climate. In sum, the climate crisis is the strategic driver.
From this perspective the stakeholders are all of us, not just the energy/environment sector, but everyone who lives and works in Maine and – hard as it is to both grasp and effectuate – the rest of the world, too. But it is not just us, here and now. It is also the unfolding worlds of and for our progeny – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. This is a kind of thinking we are not used to. It is a kind of representation our political structure was not really designed for. It’s a kind and scale of issue humankind has never faced before. How can we possibly address issues whose meaning and import impact us half a century or more from now? But the answer is if we don’t the consequences for the climate of the entire planet are both predictable and dire. From this broader, more strategic perspective several things need saying pertinent to Maine’s energy planning requirements:
a. A serious planning effort on energy will be fatally hobbled if it proceeds under the premise that no overt choices can or will be made between energy/environment technologies within the energy/environmental sector (your exact quote was wanting “to avoid picking winners and losers in the energy sector”).
b. Given the advanced state of the existing atmospheric imbalance already in motion, the climate goal cannot be achieved without keeping the vast bulk of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Fossil fuel reserves include oil, coal, and natural gas.*
[* Natural gas is a fossil fuel. The petroleum industry has succeeded in camouflaging it as a “bridge” fuel to a fossil-fuel-free future, but it is more accurately a Trojan horse. First, it only increases the likelihood that the required targets for ppm reductions will be missed. Second, it blinds us to the folly that we should be sending good money after bad investing in infrastructure and product for transporting and using natural gas. Third, it ignores the meaning of the fundamental environmental rationale for getting off fossil fuels in the first place by advancing the use of a fuel derived through technology which involves permanently sacrificing an ever-growing portion of Earth’s finite supply of fresh water, depositing substances of high toxicity into the Earth’s crust, and compromising geologic stability in the regions it is undertaken. I submit that Mainers attuned as they are to the importance of water and environment would never allow fracking here. Why would we be willing to utilize the proceeds of such a dangerous practice employed elsewhere? Yes, it’s a moral question, but, then, it’s a moral issue.]
c. That means that, for Maine (as with all the rest of the world), the key strategic goal must be ending completely and over a specified period of time our current heavy dependence on fossil fuels and replacing that entirely with energy derived from indigenous renewable sources. That obligation on our part is directly contradictory to any desire to be above “picking losers and winners in the energy sector.”
d. Finally, it needs saying, perhaps not surprisingly, that the current documentation of the project you are working on is largely free of any references to the huge weight of the importance of energy planning for our future. In its exposition there is no sense of crisis. Words are important. Even the DOE statement of one of the aims for its support of energy planning (perhaps for political or cosmetic purposes) is already compromised: it doesn’t speak to the world-wide energy crisis but to “achiev(ing) energy and climate security for the nation,” a formulation which leaves far too much room for ‘creative’ interpretation. Which then stands illustrated by the language expressing the state-level interpretation. It devolves down to “reduc(ing) pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.” Desirable as that may be, it’s a half measure at best. Given the scale of these concerns, it should be plain that even a well-organized energy and environmental technology sector is too narrow a venue for making decisions of the kind required.
So what would be broad enough?
An Unprecedented Challenge to Democratic Processes
It’s not an easy question. Never has our – or any! – state or nation been confronted with a challenge as fundamental as making huge and deliberate decisions about the very sources of energy which drive our personal and family lives, our industries, and our infrastructure.
Even if Mainers were all of one mind on the matter – and we’re not – the very structures of government to address energy issues in Maine are very fragmented. A dozen or more different state-level legislative, executive, and independent bodies have defined roles. Add to that the potential for and the consequences of the quite independent actions that individuals and municipalities might take, indeed, might be perceived to be required, if, for whatever reasons, concerted action at the state level proves impossible.
Looking to the challenge and tasks of fundamentally transforming the sources of the energy on which human life has been grounded for more than two centuries will oblige us to think and act in ways totally unfamiliar to most of us. But it is not unprecedented.
We can thank nations who came before us on this land of North America for a consciousness about the importance of thinking “unto the seventh generation.” Some of us have developed sophisticated capacities for planning and for forecasting long-range, multi-decade futures. Some of us understand the contrast between thinking about “me and mine” as compared
with “we and ours,” between “private gain” and attending to “the commons” which sustains us all, as well as those who follow.
Changing fundamentally the sources of energy on which we have depended is perhaps a classic example of being obliged to raise ourselves by our own bootstraps. It can’t be done . . . and yet, it must!
The mechanism implicit in the DOE grant project is market forces, not to be sneezed at, to be sure, yet it is the market, responding to the apparently (but in the long run mistakenly) cheap energy sources, which got us into the pickle we’re now in. A thirty to forty year transformation must be brought about. Market mechanisms can play a role (that, for example, what the needed carbon tax proposals are all about), but they will not be sufficient. Fundamental and hugely encompassing societal choices will be required.
* * * * *
I can’t begin to specify a course of action. Wouldn’t be appropriate; I don’t know enough. Nor does any other individual.
What I can do is begin to suggest the kinds of questions all of us – individually, locally, and acting as a state – must raise, address, help to answer, decide, and than act on with both coherence and beneficial effect.
— How do we help assure that the scale of attention directed to the energy issues is properly comprehensive?
— A closely related question is how can Maine’s current population be brought to a much deeper understanding about the science, the scale, and the component elements of the energy issue and what is at stake for us, our children, and our children’s children? None that we have ever addressed as a state has reached the overall importance of this one.
— What are Maine’s indigenous renewable energy sources? What is their present level of technological development and efficacy? What needs to be done to improve their viability? What potential exists given even greater knowledge and technical development? What level of power generation would it take quantitatively to supplant our dependence on fossil
fuels from outside the state? What kind of investment would be required overall?
— The sun doesn’t always shine nor the wind always blow. What mix of infrastructure development and grid management will need to be created to store “episodic energy” in forms (e.g., chemical, mechanical, gravity powered, etc.) that can be employed as needed to meet energy demand that exceeds momentary supply?
— A major challenge will be taking transportation off gas and diesel and onto electricity. At least charging station infrastructure will need to be created. Timing of the steps will be critical. Public transport will be a critical element. Good data on vehicular lifespans (turnover rates) and good judgments about parameters to be set for the crucial individual owner replacement decision points will be required. Deliberate decision making can lead to incentives to manufacturers to help midwife the transition. The resurrection of rail and provisions for visitors who may be behind Mainers in making the transition will need attention, too. This small set of transportation-related questions is but a start.
— Mainers presently spend $6 billion annually on fossil fuel almost exclusively on heating oil, gasoline, and natural gas. That’s an amount greater than a tenth of our gross state product. It Annually it is nearly twice the State Budget. Over forty years that’s nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars. How much more economically healthy we will be as a state when that sum is directed inside the state in support of the “care and feeding” of our own indigenous renewable energy source is tantalizing. How can a longstanding ongoing financial commitment of that size, through selected appropriations, borrowing, and deliberate reallocation – whatever — come to be withdrawn from where it is now going and reallocated back to ourselves as the silver lining of the transformation we need to make anyway? (For this set of questions and the next I would share a lesson I first learned fifty years ago. When asking experts to address new kinds of questions, instead of asking them whether something was possible in their domain, ask them how it would be possible. The first frame often as not produced an answer in the negative; the second was almost guaranteed to generate imaginative effort.)
— The energy transformation ahead is a complex, multi-phased, drawn-out action designed to serve the commons. Energy policy for the commons focuses attention on the macro-aims of energy planning. It assures that the moral elements involved will not be slighted. Clean energy is as important to our communities’ health, well-being, and environment as clean air is for our lungs and bodies. But a set of decisions of this magnitude and duration could, if not carefully conceived and properly handled, impact negatively on some of us to a greater degree than others. If it were the “invisible hand” working, we might be tempted to ignore. But it will not be. Our energy transformation will be the result of deliberate action on our part. And therefore we should approach it according to the principle of magnanimity. We should make every effort to anticipate the potential for inequitable impact and commit to holding harmless those negatively impacted. What does that mean to do so? What besides financial impact (investment loss, out of pocket costs, etc.), job loss, systematic retraining from old occupations to the new, etc. should be included under the magnanimity lens? (I’m serious about this part of the policy equation. America has shown itself quite creative in the way we compensate people for losses we judge important and shared. We pay for property taken in the name of all or for some public purposes. When we have been attacked we engage special masters and compensate victims. The principle of magnanimity would be an extension to even larger public actions to assure they fall equitably on all and that no inequitability falls unequally on a few.)
— How do we decide what to study first in this overall quest, what to do first, what the venue for action is, whether we can afford to wait at all, and what we individually must do if it looks like it’s all falling to us?
— How will the role of electric utilities change? Some may still produce energy; we may decided to allow them all to do so again. But the requirements and expectations of the management of energy demand in light of the larger public interest merits careful re-examination as electricity, from whatever generative means, becomes the overwhelmingly dominant energy form.
— The most important energy requiring attention may well be that we purchase and then waste (so-called ‘nega-watts’). The low hanging fruit in that regard lies in two directions: what can be done quickly to weatherize already existing homes and buildings of other kinds; and for future buildings how can we change building standards so that they focus on performance rather than prescriptive building codes. What will be entailed in achieving both? How quickly can it be done? Might achieved energy savings become an engine for helping achieve other parts of the energy transformation?
As the above questions illustrate energy policy for the commons focuses attention on the macro-aims of energy planning. It assures that the moral elements involved will not be slighted. Clean energy is as import ant to our communities’ health and well-being and environment as clean air is for our lungs and bodies. It’s way too important for the energy generals to be deciding on their own, especially when they’ve self-imposed limits on the kinds of decisions they’re prepared to make. A whole string of market-driven decisions cannot be relied upon to established what we all must do. That’s why magnanimity looms so large for me. When Maine becomes prepared to make short-term tough but long term
sound decisions we need to have thought about what social models there are for applying the concept of magnanimity when the impact of such decisions begin to unfold e.g., (indemnification, eminent domain, routes to next careers, special masters,
OK, that’s enough illustration; I’ve certainly not exhausted the potential. There will be much more requiring attention by all of us. I have taken this time and applied the effort as one more step in my evolving thinking. Had I not attended October 24 it wouldn’t have unfolded in quite this way. Thanks for the stimulus!
And that’s all she wrote.