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Three Ghosts

The other night while sleeping I felt a tap on my shoulder. I awoke to find an ephemeral being telling me that they were the first of three ghosts that would visit me that night. 

She said she was the Ghost of Energy Past. 

She showed me reminders of when electricity was going to be too cheap to meter, and when demand was growing so fast in the post-war period that it was a matter of build, build, build those new plants. She reminded me of when electric utilities had salesmen who would compete against those from the gas company to see who could "energize" a new subdivision with their source, with a home being given a "Gold Medallion" designation if it went all-electric.  

She showed me how energy suddenly became "a thing" in the early 70's, when the oil supplying nations pulled the rug out from under the consuming nations. She showed me how the next "thing" that came into being was energy conservation.  

She reminded me of the Congressional Hearings that Senator John Chafee, a Republican from RI, held in the 80's asking questions about CO2, and what would happen when concentrations of it in our atmosphere rose to higher levels. She reminded me that my utility CEO sat on the South Lawn in the early 90's along with President Clinton to talk about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

She reminded me of how the utility industry changed in the 90's and the 00's, with a restructuring of the industry and a creation of new markets, new choices for customers, and the introduction of new technologies and new ways of operating the grid. 

She showed me how renewable energy made great inroads in the 00's, and how even greater inroads were made in the "Teens". In viewing 2015, I was reminded that a global agreement was reached on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

She asked me what I thought of these visions and reminders. I said that while it looked like a slow process, we as a nation had nevertheless made a lot of progress and seemed to be on a path to greater reliability, lower costs, and environmental improvement (even if GHG emissions were not nearly low enough yet). 

She said it was now time for a visit from the Ghost of Energy Present. 

This Ghost had short story to tell, at least in terms of timeframe. He talked only about 2017. 

In 2017, I was shown visions of great changes to the energy path that America was on. I saw an attempt to subsidize and bring back coal, which was otherwise in decline, as a major generation fuel. I saw attempts to pull back support for renewable energy. I saw major tax legislation that instead of trying to help move the nation farther and faster towards the new energy economy, focused on opening up more U.S. lands to conventional energy exploration and development. I saw the withdrawal of our country from the global climate agreement. I saw the core basis for most energy policy - science itself - being questioned, if not banned from discussion.  

I also saw data showing evidence of an increasingly warming climate, along with storms that made their mark in the record books for things like precipitation and duration. 

I said to my ghost: "where is this headed?" 

He said it was time for Ghost Number Three. 

My next ghost made me step through a portal into the future.  I saw a different country than the one I had been living in just a moment ago. It was one that had been transformed by climate change. It was one that was neither a leader in the policy world, nor in the world of technology development and deployment. It was a future populated by my descendants and the members of generations Z, Z+, Z++ and beyond. As my guide led me past them, I could hear them say to each other: How did we end up like this?  

I turned to Ghost #3 and said: Is this future inevitable? Is there nothing that we can do?  

A year ago, after the presidential election, I did a column that talked about waiting to see what happened and not just going by the new Administration's pro forma words. I did that column as a long-time registered independent (which I continue to be today). Many of you thanked me for that column saying that it helped you understand the situation and gave you a way to think about how things would play out.  

Well, actions are worth a thousand words, and the actions taken this past year are largely in opposition to what those of us in the clean energy community and grid modernization community support and want.   

In response to these actions, many of us have turned the other cheek and said that this or that is an isolated action, and things will get better. In other cases, we have turned our heads away, and focused on other things. Making money and increasing profits can be a powerful reason to look away at things that are happening that we would otherwise pay much more attention to.   

But at the federal level, turning cheeks and heads has not resulted in anything but a gradual and continuous decline in what was formally a move by the U.S. to move towards a new, cleaner energy economy that would yield benefits ranging from those in the area of health to those that lead to greater employment and trade.  

As we enter the new year, we all might want to think about this and think about whether we, as companies, organizations, policymakers, and individuals should change in any way how we think and how we act and what we can do to put us (back) on track to a sustainable, clean, efficient new energy era. And by all means, we should all work to avoid the assumption that someone else is going to do it. We don't want to end up in that future that my third ghost showed me. It was not pretty.  

Hmmm...that is a rather serious note on which to end one of my columns, isn't it? So I give you all a pass to not think about what I have said until after you have cleaned up all of the wrapping paper and digested all of the turkey or goose. But after that, well.....  (: 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a thoughtful New Year.


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