Election is 'More Heat than Light' on Energy


"Bill White, who served as deputy secretary of energy during the Clinton administration, says the U.S. is on the road to energy independence largely 'due to the industry itself and not the government.'"

The run-up to November's U.S. presidential election will generate more rhetoric than real solutions for the energy issues facing the country, according to former Houston mayor and former senior U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) official Bill White, who appeared on the all-energy news and talk program Platts Energy Week Sunday. White, who acknowledged that energy issues are again becoming a concern to voters largely because of high gasoline prices, said he doesn't believe the "presidential debate will shed as much light as heat" on energy issues.

"We need to have energy that's affordable, we need to continue on a road, that now looks viable, toward energy independence and we need to make sure we use fuels that are clean and don't pollute the air or hurt our kids," White, who served as deputy secretary of energy during the Clinton administration, said.

"I think we're on that road and a lot of it is due to the industry itself and not the government."

He said President Barack Obama will likely continue to criticize the oil industry during the election campaign, while presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney will attack the president for using "big government" rather than the market to determine energy policy.

"The big drivers for energy will be fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and the extent to which the federal government really gets behind the conversion to natural gas for electric power and possibly transportation," he said.

A key element for that strategy to succeed, White said, will be certainty that natural gas will continue to be available.

"I think people need to be able to plan, to make investment decisions to replaced coal-fired power plants that have all sorts of emissions. . .with cleaner natural gas. And I think you need to have some certainty that gas will be abundant for [companies] to start converting their large [vehicle] fleets to natural gas,” White explained.

White, a Democrat, said he believes Obama has been effective on environmental issues, but "a lot weaker" on energy. He said Obama was "slow to realize the potential we have in hydrocarbons" for reducing the U.S. trade imbalance and reducing energy dependence on foreign suppliers.

But White said the president wasn't alone in this, adding that "some people even in the industry were taken by surprise" by U.S. production of unconventional oil and gas. "I think we are in for an exciting time in the energy business."

White also said he believes Obama was mistaken in his support for a cap-and-trade scheme for controlling U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. A bill to do that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, but failed in the U.S. Senate.

"It was a good goal, but the wrong approach," he said. "We can reduce carbon emissions and a lot of other emissions, as well, if we produce more power from gas rather than coal, make our vehicles more efficient and make our buildings more efficient. If you do those three things, you'll reduce emissions and energy costs. If you don't do those three things, then you won't."

Also Sunday, Platts Energy Week looked at one of the latest election-related opinion polls on the topic of energy just released by the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, Texas. UT Survey codirector Wayne Hoyer discussed the poll's findings on what the general public thinks about energy and what any team in the White House can deliver.

In a program segment entitled, "Energy Saving—There's an App for That," Ogi Kavazovic, vice president of marketing at Opower, discussed how his firm's new social energy smart technology application enables people in millions of households to post their energy use on Facebook for purposes of home energy bill information sharing.

Opower, a software company headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, has teamed with Facebook and the Natural Resources Defense Council to help identify energy savings opportunities.

This week's "Market Spotlight" focused on the latest power industry controversy. Platts Associate Editor Jason Fordney reported on the battle between power plant builders and operators and providers of energy-saving services.


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