Trucks at Work

Energy planning

“This is not a must-win situation: This is a football game. Now, World War II, THAT was a must-win situation.” -Marv Levy, former head coach of the Buffalo Bills

There‘s a growing discussion of late over the viability of biofuels - ethanol, biodiesel, etc. - and their potential long-range impact on the globe. Some rightfully wonder if we‘re trading our problematic dependence on petroleum for a new complex set of issues, with the agricultural needs of our food supply being in direct competition with our fuel supply if we start switching to biofuels en masse.

Ethanol currently relies heavily on corn and water for producing this fuel for example, so until efficient processes come on line to make ethanol from agricultural waste, landfill glob, and other unsavory byproducts, the debate over the future of biofuels will get only more intense.

Which of course misses the whole point. We need SOME sort of fuel to power trucks, cars, planes and the other motorized creations that support life on this planet of six billion souls. And we‘ve got to find a way to do that with a fuel that pollutes less than petroleum and divorces at long last from reliance from the Middle East. What to do?

Here‘s an example of creative thinking in this direction: the California Secure Transportation Energy Partnership (CalSTEP), launched a year ago this month, outlined a comprehensive set of actions geared toward increasing California‘s transportation energy efficiency and alternative fuel use by 2020. Developed over 18 months, the CalSTEP Action Plan aims to grow that state‘s economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on petroleum at the same time - a tall order, to be sure.

Based on a partnership of industry, government, academic and non-profit leaders from automakers to conservation groups, the plan targets three key areas where the state can take action to secure its energy future: increasing vehicular efficiency; diversifying the state‘s fuel supply; and reducing the overall need to drive. One of its overall goals is to reduce petroleum use by 15% percent, while increasing alternative fuel use to 20% over the next 12 years.

Most interesting are the two key facets upon which CalSTEP is based: 1) That no single action is sufficient to address the state‘s challenges in transportation energy. 2) That the state can take meaningful action independent of the federal government to buffer itself from the ill effects of excess petroleum consumption.

CalSTEP encourages California state leaders to consider and take actions in three primary and seven supporting area, with those three primary actions accounting for the bulk of the benefits in terms of reducing petroleum use and cutting global warming emissions. They include:

Alternative Fuel Portfolio Standard (AFPS) - a market-based approach for increasing alternative fuel use through fuel blending, dedicated use, and/or credit trading. Goals would be 10% alternative fuels by 2012 and 20% by 2020.

Smart Communities - a program to spark more transportation energy efficient community design and development that sets goals for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 10% by 2020 in California‘s urban regions and rewards communities who achieve who this goal.

Energy Security Tax Relief and Realignment (ESTRR) - a program to help protect Californians and investors against foreign oil price volatility and gaming that would use a revenue-neutral foreign oil security fee coupled with a rebate to all taxpayers to encourage the long-term production of and investment in efficient vehicle technologies.

Supporting efforts include expanding alternative fueling stations and vehicles, fund and commit the state‘s fleets to setting the standard for the use of efficient vehicles and alternative fuels, spur the development and deployment of more efficient vehicles, technologies, and fuels, help communities plan for transportation energy efficiency, and offer rewards to motorists who choose to drive less.

What‘s most intriguing to me about this plan is how comprehensive it is: look at the way it suggests managing overall energy and transportation use, to the point of offering monetary rewards for less consumption. That “carrot” approach could spur a lot of change with the public, especially when compared to the rise on gasoline and diesel prices of late. And when you look at projected petroleum consumption figures for the Golden State - 23 billion gasoline gallon equivalents (BGGE) for all on-road vehicles by 2020 - it‘s easy to see how large fuel costs could become if a new direction isn‘t taken.

Will this plan succeed? That‘s a tough question. But at least it‘s start - at least transportation and energy needs are now out on the table in clear view with potential, if not ultimately practical, solutions. That‘s the first critical step in getting a handle on our future energy and transportation needs, before they start controlling us.