As I was researching “peak oil” in the congressional record, I ran across this testimony from current Secretary of Energy Moniz, as well as some of his other points of view on different energy matters, of which I’ve extracted just a few. Moniz defends climate change quite well in this congressional testimony, despite the challenges from stone age congressmen who disagree. But his views on Peak Oil are disappointing.
House of Representatives David Schweikert: If I were to hop in the literature right now and go back a dozen years ago, whether it be you or many of the smart people who you hang around with, what would you have written about peak oil? Small problem is we got it wrong. And we built tax codes here, we built environmental codes, we built regulatory codes, actually even foreign policy based on a premise that was absolutely wrong ().
United States Secretary of Energy Moniz: Sir, that is exactly along the lines of what I was trying to emphasize, that I think we don’t know the future. We always think of the future as a linear extrapolation of the present, and it is not. And it is those innovations that do so much to change the future. I will just say one thing, however, in terms of peak oil. I have witnesses; I was never a peak oil believer.
Schweikert: I Googled you and I did not see you pop up. I did see the guys just down the hallway from you at MIT writing huge articles about how, right now, we should be about $200 barrel in oil as of this month.
Moniz: We didn’t even get close. But on peak oil, I mean, our view was always that it is not molecules you run out of; it is at what cost can you get the molecules? And also just to reinforce your point, in natural gas, of course, it was very recently when major heads of major corporations not only got it wrong but put their money in the wrong place.
Schweikert: But you have to agree it is a brilliant example of technology is faster-moving and smarter than we are because someone out there is coming up with it. It is—you know, when I hold up the book of—you know, the Population Bomb from 1968, the only thing they got right was the author’s name. Everything in the book got wrong because the arrogance of not knowing what the next breakthrough is.
The targets are across-the-board efficiency, where we still have many opportunities that are lifecycle-cost beneficial, whether that is vehicles, buildings of course are an enormous opportunity, industrial processes. Then, we need to go to low-carbon, carbon-free alternatives in the power sector, which is probably the leading sector for getting carbon out of the sector. We have three options: We have nuclear, we have renewables, and we have carbon capture and sequestration. And I believe we need a multipronged approach on all of these, and that is what, in fact, the President’s budget proposes. That is what we are doing
Mr. BUCSHON. why would private sector venture capital be leaving renewables?
Secretary MONIZ. Certainly, one of the reasons has been the large uncertainties in the wind case around the tax.
Mr. BUCSHON . You may or may not agree that it is because that at this point in our history, they are not economically viable and—without massive Federal Government infusion of cash into those industries, is that true or not true? The question is is are we getting ahead of our- selves by—at this point without R&D showing that these are economically viable, getting ahead of ourselves essentially? When venture capital is leaving those areas of our economy, should the Fed- eral Government, other than R&D in those areas, continue to put this kind of money into those when it is clear that the private sec- tor and venture capital are leaving them because they are not economically viable? That is the bottom line.
Secretary MONIZ [replies several times that wind is competitive]
I think fusion and plasma science are an important area for continued DOE support. Plasma science really is another kind of phase of matter and then fusion has a long-term—and it is still long-term possibility as an attractive energy source. So I support the general idea of continuing fusion research.
Mr. KENNEDY. Just because it is a long-term horizon doesn’t mean that we don’t make the in- vestment. Would you agree?
Secretary MONIZ . No, we have to. If you don’t make it today, we won’t have it in the future.
How will DOE spend money this year?
Mr Kennedy: The Fiscal Year 2014 administration budget includes 2.78 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which proposes a number of increases to its programs across the board. You also mentioned in your testimony, sir, the ‘‘Race to the Top’’ initiative as part of your larger focus on national energy policy. You touched upon this a little bit earlier, sir, but if there are parts of our across-the-board energy portfolio that are not yet cost- competitive because of barriers to technological advancement, how would you propose going forward to lower those barriers to make the technological advances to make it cost-effective?
Secretary M ONIZ . Well, I think we need a portfolio of instruments. At the foundation is the basic R&D, which gives us, you know, the new possibilities. But then, of course, we have something like ARPA–E, which takes promising but still high-risk technologies and moves them hopefully to the place where they become market-attractive for investors. And I think we are seeing a lot of success now developing there and that the program is still new. I mean it is about 3–1/2 years old, well, going on 4, I guess. So that is very, very encouraging. We also have them in programs and the applied energy programs in selected areas for large-scale demonstrations. The gentleman from North Dakota, for example, mentioned carbon capture and sequestration. That is a place where demonstrating the viability of large-scale storage is just not credible without DOE, without government investment. And then when it comes to deploying or helping the deployment, then we have things like the loan programs
Mr. WEBER. We have a unique opportunity in the history of the world for America to take the lead, as you heard earlier from one of my colleagues. Are you committed to doing everything you can to get those—that permit process moving forward, especially LNG, natural gas, and making it expeditious so that we can maintain our competitive edge so that we can have that public interest in mind that you yourself talked about?
Secretary MONIZ. Well, again, to clarify, I mean we are not engaged in permitting in terms of production or exploration but in terms of LNG exports certainly.
Mrs. LUMMIS. I want to visit with you about what has been happening with regard to the domestic uranium industry. Sometime ago a 10% cap was negotiated so that DOE would only transfer, sell, or barter their uranium stockpile at a rate below 10% of current domestic uranium demand. And that agreement was abrogated and the price of uranium fell through the floor. And my State, which produces a great deal of uranium—albeit domestic supply only supplies 10% of our uranium for our nuclear power needs—was hurt badly, badly by the DOE’s decision to abrogate the 10% cap. You know, the DOE has the authority, the power to make or break uranium production in this country because of prices and their ability to dump excess product on the market and destroy prices here, thereby making our country actually more reliant on foreign providers of uranium. My next question is about USEC. Over the last 18 months, Dr. Moniz, the taxpayers have been asked to directly subsidize the U.S. Enrichment Corporation to the tune of over $1 billion in cash for uranium and other incentives. I want to understand how big this hook is that the taxpayers are hanging on. Specifically, is it DOE or is it USEC who is financially obligated to safely decommission the enrichment facility in Paducah, Kentucky, and hand it over to DOE? And how much do you anticipate that costing?
Secretary MONIZ . I cannot give you an exact cost estimate right now… There is a sensitivity that currently we have no American origin uranium enrichment technology, and consequently, if and when we need en- riched uranium for military purposes, we will not have the option.