Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 19, 2013

Ex-oil exec sees perilous energy future for U.S.

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — America is headed for an energy crisis filled with power blackouts and gasoline shortages, making today’s gas prices something to fear for in coming years.

So predicts John Hoffmeister, who knows more than a little bit about energy. He ran Shell Oil from 2005 to 2008. Hoffmeister told the Traverse City Economics Club that America’s energy future is perilous if the country doesn’t get an “intervention” on its energy policy and cure a dysfunctional, polarized political climate.

“Pernicious and repeated (blackouts,)” Hoffmeister said. “Gas outages. You can’t get gas. You know what that does. We are on our way.”

Hoffmeister said Americans should be demanding their politicians embrace a smart energy policy. His personal recommendations for a national energy fix include:

Start using natural gas as a transportation fuel to power trucks and cars.

The Washington Post reports technology to use natural gas to power cars is proven and used in places like Brazil and Argentina. Hoffmeister said America needs to change its regulations on the production of methanol to help lower gasoline dependency.

“At least 5 million barrels a day or the equivalent level (of oil,)” Hoffmeister said. “That would be at the top of my list ... the (Environmental Protection Agency) has to change the regulations.”

Use thorium to replace uranium, allowing nuclear power to be more cost-effective and safer.

China is looking at using thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element, to replace uranium to produce nuclear power. Hoffmeister said America already has a wealth of knowledge on how it can be done.

“We have to do something to make use of nuclear,” Hoffmeister said. “Perhaps it would not be as expensive as uranium. Building a new nuclear plant is cost-prohibitive because of the nuclear waste issue. We are unable as a democracy to settle the nuclear waste issue.”

Stop using regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate coal.

“We have not even tried clean coal technology,” Hoffmeister said. “Not even tried it, and there are too many millions of people who rely on coal energy or who rely on coal for their jobs. It’s unfair to them.”

Hoffmeister said clean coal technology should be embraced. Doing so would profoundly reduce the industry’s release of carbon emissions. The technology, he said, has worked in Australia and elsewhere.

Implement so-called Smart Grid technology and invest in research for renewables.

A smart energy grid is a high-tech way to deliver energy, relying on computers and consumer demand to deliver energy in a much more efficient way. Implementing such a system will require a long-term strategy on funding and cooperation from public utility boards.

“If you get greater efficiency by spending money on intelligence, you are ultimately impacting the rates ratepayers will pay,” Hoffmeister said. “But it may take a while to get the efficiency worked into the billing system to get the benefit. You need to invest in the smart grid to get the benefits later on.”

Regarding renewables, Hoffmeister believes the push for renewables is going too fast, before it is commercially applicable on a large-scale. He supports significant increases in funding for research and development with a long-term approach to renewables being a big part of the energy supply equation.

“I view it over a short-, medium- and long-term time frame,” Hoffmeister said. “In the short-term we should be doubling, tripling or quadrupling the research and development going into renewables. We’ve started going into implementation on technology that doesn’t deliver because for political purposes -- because it sounds like a good thing to do. Who could be against clean energy? Nobody. Except that it’s not commercial.

“By the time we get to the long-term, it should mostly be investment in renewables,” he said.