Fossil fuels and renewable energy have become touchy topics in this election, with challenger Mitt Romney painting President Barack Obama as too hard on the first and too fanciful about the second – and Obama saying Romney is out of touch with energy’s future.
Nuclear energy supplies about 20 percent of US electricity, and just 18 months ago dominated the news because of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster – yet neither candidate has said much about it so far on the campaign trail.
Romney mentioned nuclear power only seven times in his recently released white paper, while he brought up oil 150 times. Even wind power did better with 10 mentions. He pushes for less regulatory obstruction of new nuclear plants, but says the same about other forms of energy.
Obama’s campaign website highlights the grants made by his administration to 70 universities for research into nuclear reactor design and safety. But while it is easy to find his ideas on wind, solar, coal, natural gas and oil, it takes a few more clicks to get to nuclear energy.
The Nuclear Energy Institute declined to discuss the candidates’ positions pre-election. However, NEI’s summer newsletter said that both “Obama and Romney support the use of nuclear energy and the development of new reactors.”
It was unimaginable what hit that plant.” – Krueger, Accenture
Still, nuclear is unlikely to become a bigger slice of the energy pie in the US over the next two decades because of the high cost to build new plants, according the US Energy Information Administration.
That may explain part of the campaign silence about nuclear. Another is lingering public worry about Fukushima, say industry observers. Even those who see nuclear as safe, say they understand why the candidates would want to steer clear of the discussion.
Daniel Krueger, a managing director for Accenture’s utilities generation and energy markets practice, described nuclear as politically “toxic,” but added, “To me as an industry guy, in my view Fukushima proved the safety of nuclear energy. We had a major plant which was hit by an earthquake and tidal wave, and no one died as a direct result of radiation exposure. And the operator willingly sacrificed a plant worth tens of billions to protect the public. It was unimaginable what hit that plant.”
Energy efficiency is a different story. Lack of controversy may be sparing it from the political brawl. Although efficiency is a key part of Obama’s energy policy, and he’s brought it up on the campaign trail several times, it somehow escaped Romney’s battering, unlike Obama’s other signature green resource – renewable energy.
“Energy efficiency is bipartisan; it has been for years, and it will continue to be,”said Rob Mosher, director of government relations for the Alliance to Save Energy.
Under Obama, efficiency received an unprecedented $25 billion of federal stimulus and is undergoing rapid technology advancement. More efficient appliances, computers, cars, light bulbs, industrial equipment and building materials will contribute to a 0.6 percent annual per capita drop in energy use from 2010-2035, according to EIA.
Romney supported energy efficiency programs while Governor of Massachusetts. And a 2011 You Tube video shows him suggesting the US do more to follow Europe’s lead in saving energy.
Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project, says Romney takes the “consultant, businessman’s perspective” that efficiency saves money. “Does that mean he will do big programs to refurbish homes? No, I don’t think so. I think he would say this should be a free market thing.”
Whoever wins the election, efficiency isn’t likely to receive the kind of financial boost it did over the last four years because of federal budget constraints.
“It is highly unlikely something like that would occur again,” Mosher said. “But there also are other measures within the realm, including the Better Buildings Initiative and other standards that can be taken at the federal level to advance energy efficiency.”
What other energy factors aren’t getting much play this election? While there is a lot of discussion about energy producers, there is little talk about energy consumers, according to Ben Chavis, chairman of the advisory board for Energy Edge Technologies and former executive director and CEO of the NAACP.
That may be a mistake on the part of the campaigns, he added, because consumers are showing a heightened interest in energy issues this election.
“I think both President Obama and Governor Romney should be much more specific about how their policy positions will improve quality of life,” he said.
David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, says consumers will benefit if the government avoids picking winners and losers and creates opportunity for innovation. “Energy demand continues to grow. The bubble will expand. We need all energy resources, now and well into the future.”
This is the last article in a four-part Breaking Energy series by Elisa Wood on energy and the presidential election.