Editorial: We can achieve energy independence in 10 years 

The United States needs a comprehensive energy policy that rewards conservation while eliminating roadblocks to energy independence. That means government needs to get out of the way and let the energy industry do what it does best — find, produce and distribute energy of all kinds. It will take abipartisan national effort to end our dependence on imported oil within the next 10 years. But we must; the economic, political and security risks of not doing so are too great.

Every form of energy production must be ramped up to achieve this desired result, including increasing domestic oil, natural gas and coal production from Alaska to the outer continental shelf. We must also build more refineries, something that hasn’t happened in three decades. Doing this will allow us to switch to clean, renewable energy sources without wrecking our economy in the process.

Generous tax credits for investing in alternative energy sources — ethanol or other biomass, hydro, wind or solar power — will do more to promote production of clean, renewable energy than the Environmental Protection Agency’s punitive approach. Incentives give businesses and individuals a compelling reason to make the change to newer, greener technologies.

A successful transition from the old smokestack industries that made America a superpower to a sophisticated, information-based economy has already led to unprecedented gains in worker productivity and improved the quality of life for billions around the globe. The Computer Revolution is still in its infancy, so we can look forward to even more progress in the new century ahead. But all those computers and computer-driven machinery require electricity — and the supply is simply not keeping up with demand.

Half of all our existing electric-generating plants use coal to produce electricity, and tremendous improvements have already been made to reduce pollution levels from coal-fired plants. Coal is not only cheaper than oil, we have more than 274 billion tons of the stuff — which will last 250 years based on current levels of usage. That’s more than all the oil in the Middle East. But like oil, coal should be seen as a stopgap measure.

Nuclear power is much more efficient; one atom of uranium can produce 10 million times more energy than an atom of carbon. As the first generation of nuclear power plants is mothballed, we need to start building nuclear plants again. About one-fourth of the world’s 441 commercial nuclear reactors are located in the U.S., but few have come online since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 — despite their stellar safety record ever since.

Incentives work. A little more than a year ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified the design of the new 1,000 MW Westinghouse advanced passive reactor. After Congress’ 2005 energy bill provided $3.1 billion in tax credits and liability protection, utilities began preparing new applications for construction and operating licenses.

Becoming energy self-sufficient by 2017 will require more political will than anything else. It’s in every American’s best interest that this important goal becomes a top national priority. In years past, Democrats talked about windfall profits taxes; now it’s time for action to bring about an energy revolution.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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