Conservation Fuels A Heated Debate

Having followed national energy policy in Washington for over 15 years, I was particularly pleased that you referenced three important misconceptions that by and large have been lost in the national debate ("Conservation power," Cover Story, Sept. 16).

First, conservation programs designed to meet future customer loads are not necessarily inconsistent with utility-shareholder interest in increasing earnings. Second, wise use of energy resources, including implementation of demand-side management programs, does not have to be force-fed to the utilities by the federal government. Finally, even with aggressive conservation programs, meeting future energy demands will necessitate that environmental choices be made regarding foreign oil vs. domestic coal, nuclear power vs. clean air, and hydro power vs. fish protection.

Your story was a positive depiction that reminds the public that sometimes business and industry, rather than the federal government, can rise to the occasion to address some very difficult socio-economic problems.

Gary C. Barbour

Director, Federal Affairs

Portland General Electric Co.


You have been ahead of the curve for years, editorializing on the many benefits of improving U. S. energy efficiency. A central question this fall is whether Congress will read these signs before hitting the critical fork in the road. Will the Senate pass the Johnston-Wallop bill, which includes oil drilling in the unique Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and thus stay on the policy road that ieeps us addicted to the wasteful use of oil? Or will the Senate opt for the Bryan bill, which calls for cars that go farther on a gallon of gas? Greater efficiency and speedier development of solar power are vital to both our environment and our economy.

George T. Frampton Jr.


The Wilderness Society


Your story correctly recognizes that conservation is being increasingly embraced by Americans at large, and especially industry. Although environmental sensitivity and concern with such detrimental long-range trends as global warming are a factor, the primary motivation is that conservation makes good business sense. The examples you cite are evidence that the potential for conservation is all around us if we only bother to look.

Paul W. Rosenberger

Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Coal accounts for almost 60% of electric-power generation, which, according to your pie chart, represents 36% of America's energy usage. Therefore, about 25% of the domestic energy use is derived from coal. While energy conservation is a worthy objective, Americans should not ignore the benefits of making better use of our abundant coal reserves. Coal represents 90% of domestic energy reserves. We should promote more research for finding ways to use coal as an alternative to imported petroleum.

James G. Kenan III


Kentucky River Coal Corp.

Lexington, Ky.

Utilities and the communities they serve will be there long after the people now serving on rate commissions have gone on to other things. Utilities have no choice but to respond to the short-term policies of politically sensitive commissioners.

Today, that means invest in conservation, and don't build. American utilities have practically stopped building base-load power plants. Over 90% of all generating capacity now under construction or planned will burn natural gas.

But consumers should not expect savings. The so-called savings are only in comparison with plants that don't get built. The problem is that even if conservation initiatives work well, the payoff will only be to defer new plants for a few more years. Old plants have to be replaced with newer and cleaner ones. Even if electricity growth is cut in half by successful conservation, the nation will need 100 or more large, new power plants by 2010.

A. David Rossin

Los Altos Hills, Calif.

Editor's note: Rossin, a visiting scientist at University of California-Berkeley, is former Assistant Secretary for nuclear energy at the Energy Dept.

The private sector has made substantial technical progress in energy efficiency over the past decade, in many cases based on federally supported R&D. However, I must object to your sideswipe that this is occurring "while Washington fiddles over a national energy strategy." The national energy strategy issued by the President in February contains a number of powerful ideas for accelerating this development, many of which have been adopted and amplified in legislation now pending.

For example, President Bush has directed all federal agencies to improve the energy efficiency of federal buildings by 20%, cut petroleum use in motor vehicles by 10%, and acquire the maximum number of alternative-fuel vehicles practicable. Consistent with the President's budget request, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have provided roughly $285 million for energy conservation research and development in the coming fiscal year. This represents an increase of more than 50% in just the last two years.

J. Michael Davis

Assistant Secretary

Conservation & Renewable Energy

Energy Dept.


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