Look at the energy-economy big picture

America is plagued by short-term thinking. Businesses rarely look beyond the next quarter’s profits or, nowadays, losses. Politicians’ horizons extend to the next election. The mass media focus on what’s popular today.

As a result of our society’s short-sightedness, we are now facing crises on several fronts — the geopolitical issues related to the environment and energy shortages, as well as our economy and unemployment. The discouraging fact is that we suffered through the energy crisis in the late 1970s that created some of these same local and global economic problems.  At that time, the government began a movement toward energy independence, but abandoned that goal in favor of pumping trillions of U.S. dollars into Mideast countries.  We all recognize that much of this money has not helped world stability or the majority of the citizens of those volatile regions. 

Unfortunately, the government did not learn from the hardship of the 1970s. Our nation is currently embarking on a thoughtful plan toward energy independence, but I often hear pessimists state that renewable energy and conservation are insufficient to sustain the U.S. economy and our standard of living.  That is simply not true.

Solar, wind, geothermal, wave energy and biomass power conversion systems can meet the needs of this country – we just need to make the commitment. In addition to the economic and environmental benefits of home-grown renewable energy, by funding research and development here, we can also expect jobs and economic growth by exporting this technology to the industrialized and developing world.

I urge every citizen to consider the following:

A mere 100-mile-square area in the Southwest can provide our nation’s energy needs using today’s solar technology.  Note that even Germany, with the level of sunlight equal to that in Maine, currently generates 30 percent of its energy from solar sources.

By using just the waste from our forestry and agricultural industries, current biomass power conversion power plants could provide roughly 40 percent of our nation’s power needs.  This doesn’t begin to match the benefits of using new fast-growing biofuel plant species that may be cultivated for power production.

Power from large wind turbines is currently cheaper than power from natural gas or oil. Only coal power is cheaper, purely because we do not count the environmental and health costs associated with strip-mining and air pollution. 

Congress is currently developing a new energy policy aimed at weaning America off of unsustainable and environmentally damaging energy sources. The long-term goal is to create a “clean energy” economy over the coming decades by spurring investment in the development of new technologies and industries using a market-based system to level the playing field between renewable energy and old fashioned carbon-based energy.

In the process, many thousands of new jobs, businesses and industries will be created. A recent study estimated that an investment of only $150 billion per year in the next decade (around 1 percent of U.S. GDP), from both public and private sources, will generate 1.7 million net new U.S. jobs.

Many large and small companies are moving into this emerging industry.  According to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, between 1998 and 2007, the number of clean-energy jobs grew at a national rate of 9.1 percent versus only 3.7 percent for traditional jobs.

The comprehensive energy and climate legislation being developed in Washington deserves our support. We need to let our leaders in Washington know that we are counting on them to think about the long-term interests of New Hampshire and the country. Both our economy and the environment depend on it. 

Jim Kesseli is president of Brayton Energy, Hampton.