Planet Gore

Power to the People

I see that U.S. News has asked the question “are the government’s energy statistics reliable enough?” It seems that, “with energy at the top of the Obama administration’s agenda, there are growing concerns that the agency’s statistics are incomplete, outdated, or, in some cases, inaccurate.”
You could say that. Earlier this month I participated in a conference where Frank Clemente, Ph.D., of Penn State also spoke, presenting a damning critique of the Energy Information Administration’s work.
Dr. Clemente agreed that EIA forecasts are crucial because their data projections are used by energy-policy makers in the U.S. and in other countries to estimate the impact of climate-change policy, develop renewable portfolio standards, and — most disturbing — to justify cancellation of coal-based generation. But he noted that EIA has, for example, in only four years (2006 thru 2009 projections) inexplicably reduced the forecast of U.S. electricity generation (needed to meet requirements) in the amount of Texas, New York, and Florida combined. Stop and think about that one for a moment.

Overestimating natural gas production in 23 of 28 forecasts (a problem if your advice about reduced electricity requirements leads to cancellation of coal capacity . . . )

Underestimating natural gas used in electricity generation in 27 of 28 forecasts (a bad combination with the first miss . . . )
Underestimating the price of natural gas to power plants in 27 of 28 estimates

Not good. This leaves us heading toward a certainly disruptive, presumably on occasion deadly, and even potentially catastrophic (if I might borrow that choice word) gap between supply and demand.

U.S. News does not seem troubled by the argument that a widespread lack of utility or integrity of EIA work is the result of an insufficient budget, which seems a little difficult to swallow. After listening to Dr. Clemente, it became clear to me that, as we slouch toward blackouts (in part thanks to EIA fecklessness), a belief will gain currency that – since electricity comes from the wall, duh – the least objectionable way to increase supply is to simply have the government buy a bunch of these.

More outlets = more electricity, right?

Quick: how many policymakers caught themselves nodding yes?

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