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HI Rep. Cynthia Thielen Energy Op-Ed

Dec 13, 2006

Replace foreign fuel with renewable energy

U.S. ingenuity can make it work, it's time to get moving on it

In response to Roger Davis' Nov. 19 commentary about diminishing oil, Douglas Madden boldly claimed: "There is no shortage of oil resources and none should be expected." ("Oil is addictive — but it's not running out," Nov. 27).

But what do the experts say?

In his well-researched book, "The End of Oil," author Paul Roberts cites the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), "one of the most popular and widely quoted agencies in the world and a leader among the so-called oil optimists." USGS caps the world's proven oil reserves at 1.7 trillion barrels and its undiscovered oil at 900 billion barrels — totaling 2.6 trillion barrels.

Roberts concludes: "Assuming that world oil consumption, now 80 million barrels a day, continues to grow at the rate of 2 percent per year, a 2.6 trillion-barrel reserve has us hitting our peak somewhere around 2030 — or even later if world oil consumption slows." With the rapidly growing oi! l needs of China and India, we won't see oil consumption slowing down. With that said, and 2030 being the projected peak year, we have a mere 23 years and one month until we start to run out of oil.

Diminishing oil reserves are only part of the picture. What about the human cost of depending on oil from foreign sources, where we send American dollars to nations in the Middle East that harbor terrorists?

What does it take to make America smarten up? The question isn't how much oil is left. The question is what is the human and environmental cost of remaining dependent on that foreign oil. Remember, our nation produces around 45 percent of the oil it needs, with the next big chunks coming from our Mainland neighbors, Canada and Mexico. The challenge is to replace the smaller percentage coming from Middle Eastern nations, where terrorists use these oil-rich areas as staging grounds.

While our nation continues to import and guzzle oil, European nations are aggressively re! placing oil-fired systems with clean, renewable energy. Of par! ticular
interest to Hawai'i and other U.S. coastal states, Europeans are tapping the power of the ocean. With financial support from the European Commission, the Coordinated Action on Ocean Energy (CA-OE) was formed, and 41 partner groups are working on wave energy conversion. Portugal and Scotland are the lead locations for this development.

At least two systems are in the phase one commercial stage. While the technology undoubtedly will evolve into phase two, the existing phase one systems still are able to generate power and income. This is similar to Phase One wind power systems still in income-producing operation today.

The United States is not a partner in the CA-OE conversion efforts, nor is our government fostering development of this technology. America's absence is short-sighted, since experts predict worldwide wave energy can provide 10 percent of the world's power needs.

Obviously the Europeans know the technology is cost-competitive and ready to be deployed.Worldp! states that Portugal's wave farms, "could yield as much as three times as much energy as that produced by a wind turbine park for the same investment cost."

Where is our nation's leadership? Members of Congress give lip service to renewable energy, but no one is leading the way to change our nation's energy policy. In H.R. 5427, the pending Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, the Senate simply appropriated $4 million "to study" the development and advancement of hydropower technology. In contrast, the European CA-OE members, with support from the EU, are putting renewable energy systems in the water, where those systems will power thousands of homes and businesses. The saying "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" describes America's leadership void.

Our nation can solve amazing challenges when we put our minds to work. Look at Dr. Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine. As a result of that discovery, the crippling disease has been eradicated. In the 1960s, President Joh! n F. Kennedy said America would put a man on the moon in 10 ye! ars, and we did it in eight. And look at the high tech industry, a technology that consisted of a few huge mainframe computers 30 years ago.

With our nation's abundant renewable energy sources, and the amazing American ingenuity, we can and must replace foreign fuel with wind power, solar systems, wave and tidal energy, plus the renewable systems still within the minds of great inventors.

So stop arguing about oil reserves! Instead, start demanding that Congress and the president aggressively change course and give renewable energy the support that it needs. Within the time it took to place a man on the moon, we can replace Middle East oil with clean and safe renewable energy, if we have leadership that understands the crisis and is committed to making this change.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th (Kailua, Mokapu), is the assistant minority floor leader. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.

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