Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 16, 2011


Host: Ted Simons

Affordable Energy


  • Retired Shell Oil Company President John Hofmeister, the founder and CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy, shares his views on America’s energy future.
Guests:
  • John Hofmeister - Retired Shell Oil Company President, founder and CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: energy,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Investment in clean, green renewable energy is an important part of our nation's sustainable energy future. But according to our next guest, renewables alone won't ensure that the U.S. Has an ample supply of reliable and affordable energy. John Hofmeister is a retired president of shell oil company. He's a distinguished sustainability scholar for asu's global school of sustainability, and he's the founder and ceo of citizens for affordable energy. Hofmeister is calling on the U.S. To implement a comprehensive energy plan. Earlier I asked him about what he envisions.
Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon." clean energy, what does that mean to you?

John Hofmeister: Well, it's a symbol. It's a word. But it doesn't take into account all of the implications of every kind of energy. In other words, I say in my book why we hate the oil companies, there's no such thing as clean energy. Every form of energy has environmental consequences. Whether it's wind or solar or biofuels. Whether it’s Uranium for nuclear, whether it’s oil, gas or coal. Every form of energy has environmental implications which need to be managed.

Ted Simons: These environmental implications, regarding renewal, clean energy. Are they more manageable? Are they better in the long term for our environment?

John Hofmeister: Some affect the land, some affect the water, some affect the air. So you have to pick and choose. They all carry risks. Land abuse from wind farms. Land abuse from solar farms. Where water, with -- when it rains is eroding. I've been on wind farms and solar farms where the erosion it 15, 20, 30 feet deep from the lack of proper risk management. So all forms of energy have implications. But I maintain we need all forms of energy.

Ted Simons: Do you think that particular narrative is getting lost? Can you not concentrate on developing clean energy and understanding you need oil for a while.

John Hofmeister: There's a focus on what is sustainable and the view is that hydrocarbons are not sustainable. When actually we've not invested in technology that could make hydrocarbons sustainable. People think with wind and solar and biofuel, they're renewable. And in fact they are. And we should be developing them. But let's not think there aren't risk issues associated. Hydrocarbons are so much more energy dense, rich, that if people wanted to replace hydrocarbon with wind and solar, don't talk about hundreds of wind towers, talk about thousands. Don't talk about hundreds of acres of solar farm, think about thousands of acres of solar farms bacause that's what it would take. Now you're taking land out of use that could be used for other purposes. The whole point is – if you going to have an energy future, let's fully understand all the risks and not hype any particular form as a silver bullet or perfect. They all have issues that have to be managed.

Ted Simons: Do they need to be hyped in a certain way to get the battleship, if you will, moving in that direction? Obviously, no one, I think, very few people see a future in which not a drop of oil does anything. I think most folks understand the idea is to lessen the dependence on oil and we'll talk about that regarding energy independence, but the idea of maybe pushing too hard to get the thing started.

John Hofmeister: They have to be hyped and subsidized because the technology is so immature and so inefficient that no commercially oriented person expecting to make a profit on their investment would invest in solar or wind or biofuels without the hype or the subsidies. It's just not commercially affordable yet. There will come a day, I have great confidence there will come a day that through nano technology research, for example, which is at the molecular level of materials we can do electricity from the sun more efficiently. I have a hope that we will do wind much more efficiently than these big giant towers. And with the biofuels we haven't cracked the biochemical code yet to make scalable production of the fuels from biofuels but we'll keep trying. I think we're 25-50 years away from cracking the technology codes we have to crack.

Ted Simons: That means we may be 20-50 years away from energy independence - which is a big phrase out there,especially when we have so much other turmoil going on in the parts of the world that are oil rich. They seem to have a whole lot of other problems going on. Talk to me about energy independence. Can we ever be energy independent?

John Hofmeister: Absolutely yes. If we really go toward electrifiaction. And we can have energy that's virtually free. With the technology advances I anticipate in the next 25-50 years, we can use wind and sun and tidal movement for our electricity. The tide never stops. That's a renewable, repeatable 24/7 resource. Or river currents as another source of electricity that never stops flowing. The sun and wind tend to alternate. Wind at night and sun during the day. You could have a balancing system. If we can get more efficiency and if we will accept the vast use of land that we'll need. So we can get electricity from these renewable sources which don't cost us anything. Which is why I'm a big fan of these, but in the meantime, we should not be demeaning or telling people we're past hydrocarbons. We're not. For the next 25-50 years, we'll need more oil, more natural gas, more coal. Not less, more nuclear, because we're not there with the renewable natural sources of energy.

Ted Simons: Last question -- I think I asked this -- a different way of looking at this. Yes, that's necessary. I think most folks with common sense would say we're not going to turn on a dime. But back to the battleship analogy, you've got to start the engines going and the thing going. If it means a little extra hype and more in subsidy, all energy is subsidized. Some cleaner is subsidized more. If it means more subsidization, do you do it to get the thing rolling?

John Hofmeister: I think every new technology we've used throughout society, not just energy, there's always been what is in the interests of society, which is government's role. Government has a role to help promote what's new, next, and different. And so I don't have a problem with a period of time in which subsidies are used.

Ted Simons: Thomas Freidman, a columnist for the "The New York Times" talked about a Manhattan project is needed for energy resources, that changes the paradigm completely. Do you agree with that?

John Hofmeister: In a sense. But remember. The Manhattan project was time based in the midst of a war. We're not in a war. And if we push too hard too fast, we make energy unaffordable for people who do not have lots of means. Remember, the average median family income in America is $38,000 a year. That means half of all Americans have to pay for their energy out of that level of income and we have to be responsible to our fellow Americans, or our fellow citizens in terms of what's affordable. So if we do this Manhattan project and it makes energy four, five times more expensive than it is today and even with subsidies, I don't think that's fair and so time is our ally here. Let's use time to have a short term, a medium term and long-term plan. That's the way forward.

Ted Simons: And some would say, time is of the essence because of global warming, because of the fact that rivers are rising, the sea level is rising and the air worse around the world. We don't have that time to get off what we're doing right now and get on to something different.

John Hofmeister: Well, that's greatly in dispute by a lot of people. I believe that we could use a lot of technology to waste manage dirty energy and make it much cleaner. Where we use coal and oil and natural gas and uranium, our waste management practices, technology, has been woefully underdeveloped. And eliminate the waste that's out there today. The smokestacks that pour waste into the atmosphere. Water systems that carry it into the oceans. Let's fix that and then we have more time to develop the alternative forms of energy that really make a difference.

Ted Simons: Citizens for affordable energy. Talk to us about this group. People here, a retired or former oil executive who says we can't give up on oil right now, they might think that affordable energy to you means – let’s drill, baby, drill!

John Hofmeister: It does not. And I write abot this in my book. I don't support ‘a drill baby, drill’ approach to future of hydrocarbons, because there are sensitive parts of the earth that should be left alone. But citizens for affordable energy was started as an education effort. Just education, we're not lobbyists and we take no money from energy-producing countries. It's a consumer focused effort at education. Because when I was president of shell, I ran head on into misinformation, disinformation and lack of information which makes people believe false things about the energy future. Let's put out the facts. I'm -- allows the disinformation and misinformation and we're trying to put truth, non-partisan, non-political truth out there. About environmental solutions for the good of our society. I take no pay. This is a pro bono effort. I have no staff that is paid. We're all volunteers. And so this is a voluntary effort to educate Americans across the country, what we can do.

Ted Simons: Last question: A room full of oil executives on one side and a room full clean energy advocates on the other side, what do you tell them?

John Hofmeister: That we're all friends. We need every bit of energy to have a competetive economy. And the only way you have affordable energy is if you have more supply than demand, that's what we experienced in the 20th century. We had more energy available than we had demand and that's why it was so affordable. We do the same with the 21st century. We are never going to run out of energy!

Ted Simons: We've had people on the program saying that oil has peaked. The ballgame is over.

John Hofmeister: Well, the stone age did not end for the lack of rocks. The oil age will not end for the lack of oil. The earth will always have oil. We won’t want it, we won't need or want it, because technology will move us in new directions.

Ted Simons: Good to have you on the show. Appreciate it.

Ted Simons: That's it for now. Have a good evening.

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