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Turning back the clock on energy policy. Remember Jimmy Carter?

Avatar for Dan Hahn
Updated 12/29/2016

In a news conference early this week in a gloomy Rose Garden, President Bush argued the main reason gasoline prices were so high was a lack of domestic oil production. While his silly assertion was widely disputed by reputable sources on NPR, his claim got me to thinking, “what exactly was his stance on energy before he was elected?” So, I took a peek back at his campaign’s energy vision from the year 2000:

“The Bush campaign supports a comprehensive energy reform bill which includes initiatives for energy conserving technologies as well as decreasing the foreign dependence on oil through increased domestic production and the use of non-fossil fuel based energy production methods.”

Non-fossil fuel based energy production sources? That means no oil and coal, right? Of course it does. So pretty good for solar and wind power advocates, right? Well, it’s been 8 years since that proclamation was made. Let’s take a look at the United States total percentage of solar equipment production compared to the rest of the world three years before he got into office (From the NYTimes, I created the nifty figures):

As you can see above, in 1997, the United States produced about 40% of the entire world’s solar energy equipment. Now, take a look at where we are in relation to the rest of the world in 2007:

Whoa! From 40% to 8%! Wha’ happened? I’ll tell you what happened. Nothing. No incentives were put in place to foster a nascent industry here. In that time period, Bush failed to lead and congress has been unable to agree to any legislation to make renewable energy incentives last longer than 2 years. TWO YEARS. Take a look at how our incentive timeframes compare to Germany and Japan:

In fact, solar and wind incentives were eliminated altogether from the 2009 energy package. Who still gets incentives? Oil and coal companies. This is completely reprehensible. Now, Germany is the leader in solar technology and is poised to continue to dominate the rest of the world in production of renewable energy. Meanwhile, domestic companies, full of really bright people who are making great headway in developing more efficient solar cells are looking to manufacture equipment not in Ohio, Indiana, or North Carolina. Where? Right. Germany. First Solar is an extremely well financed company that is profitable and is about to open up a huge production facility there. 540 jobs. Straight to strengthen the Euro against the dollar. Check out First Solar’s stock performance over the past year since its IPO:

Not too shabby, right? Yeah that’s a 1080.23% return over a year and a half. Maybe by the time you finish reading this, a cup of coffee in Germany may cost you $6 instead of $4.

Now, in a way, these figures aren’t that surprising to me. Why? Well, Bush is linked to his father, his father linked to Reagan, who ripped the solar panels off the White House that Jimmy Carter installed. Ah, Jimmy Carter. The last “bad presidency”. This comment by JohnStanier I thought did him a little bit of justice he deserves (However, he’s not winning points with me in regards to the Palestinian/Israel situation):

“He got dealt a bad hand.The taking of the hostages wasn’t his fault, it was blowback. And that they were released the day Reagan was inaugurated is a pretty huge coincidence, especially considering Reagan had a former CIA head as his running mate. Also, the oil crisis hit during his presidency. He probably would have rolled with the hostage situation, but having gas lines and price controls and asking people to voluntarily use less energy? That did him in. American people are selfish. (Hey, I’m American, I’m not that much better than my peers).And then stagflation, which I think is the result of earlier Keynsian policies, hit. Ouch. Add onto that, Carter was a true Washington outsider, and wasn’t liked in the Congress, and you have the makings of a “bad presidency.” I don’t think he was that bad, but then again, I’m not like most Americans that expect more, more and more from the government, instead of having to potentially make a sacrifice.”

I did a bit more digging and found a speech Carter gave I felt was a little unnerving, foretelling, and well worded: April 18, 1977. Since it was given over three decades ago, when many of the reporters in Bush’s White House were still playing with toy tanks, I can understand why many seem oblivious to it. However, this speech established the strategic petroleum reserve, gave birth to the modern solar power industry, led to the insulation of millions of American homes, and established America’s first national energy policy. I excerpted some pieces from it that I urge all of you beseech the next administration carefully consider. We’ve been regressing for quite some time now:

“With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century. We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren. We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us…The most important thing about these proposals is that the alternative may be a national catastrophe. Further delay can affect our strength and our power as a nation. [This is t]he ‘moral equivalent of war’ — except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not destroy. We can be sure that all the special interest groups in the country will attack the part of this plan that affects them directly. They will say that sacrifice is fine, as long as other people do it, but that their sacrifice is unreasonable, or unfair, or harmful to the country. If they succeed, then the burden on the ordinary citizen, who is not organized into an interest group, would be crushing. There should be only one test for this program: whether it will help our country.”

Kind of strange to think that speech was given so long ago and yet we’re still crippled by those issues Carter warns of, huh? By the way, those are the same special interest groups that removed our solar incentives from the 2009 energy bill. When amortized over the life of a typical mortgage, installing solar power in a house in most parts of the US is cheaper than drawing power from the grid. Meanwhile, most of us sit idly by while we’ve enacted an energy bill that includes billions of dollars in welfare payments to oil businesses who continually shatter profit records on an annual basis. While we struggle to pay for gasoline, this administration has passed vehicle emissions standards that barely reach 35mpg while there is technology out there that can easily increase mpg past 100. Whoever the new president is, please help us consider that we can do better.

Last modified: December 29, 2016

7 thoughts on “Turning back the clock on energy policy. Remember Jimmy Carter?

  1. Avatar for eric eric says:

    im trying to invest could u give me some pointers.. i would appreciate it very much!

    1. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

      Sorry, we’re not investor geeks here. Just solar geeks. We give no investor advice. Except for investing in solar, naturally. But that’s a pretty good investment if you live in the right state with subsidies. :)

  2. Avatar for Jake Jake says:

    Good article! We will change our ways, we may be forced to, or, hopefully, Obama will get us on the right track, along with higher gas prices. Even $4 gas stirred up a frenzy about alternative energy. Imagine if that went higher, along with electric bills!

    It’s easy to overlook a midget until he punches you in the nuts.


  3. Avatar for Ray Ray says:

    The Iran Hostage scandal paralyzed the Carter White House and the election of Reagan was a blow out – 44 to 6 states, popular vote by 10%. And with the 75% drop in oil prices, sadly the US went back to overall business as usual for energy usage.

  4. Avatar for Scot Rogers Scot Rogers says:

    Actually the energy crisis was not brought on by Carter. It was in the works prior. Our conspicuous consumption, coupled by the formation of Israel in 1948 galvanized the middle east against keeping the oil that we became addicted to flowing.

    The next 2 administrations and their undeniable ties to oil and it’s production is what caused the following oil issues.

    Sometimes you have to go back in time to go forward.

    I really hope there is still time.

  5. Avatar for Ann E. Moutse Ann E. Moutse says:

    The Carter energy crisis was a result of OPEC producer country responses policy decisions from the previous administration.

  6. Avatar for Paul Johnson Paul Johnson says:

    “The Bush campaign supports a comprehensive energy reform bill which includes initiatives for energy conserving technologies as well as decreasing the foreign dependence on oil through increased domestic production and the use of non-fossil fuel based energy production methods.”

    They are still pushing for increased domestic production (thats their main goal), and they have subsidized ethanol production. They have done exactly what they said they would.

    Also this ignores all other alternative energy sources other than solar and wind energy and doesn’t account for possible increased growth of solar development in Germany.

    Of course he could do a much better job actually looking for alternative energy.

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