Earlier this year I sponsored legislation to establish a Commission on Energy and the Environment that I now chair.
Made up of legislators, citizens and non-voting agency representatives, the new standing Commission will study related issues, monitor existing state efforts in these two important areas, and recommend legislation for the next session.
Lead-off speaker at the Commission’s first meeting last week was Dr. Robert L. Hirsch, author of the 2005 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy titled “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management”. In this report, Dr. Hirsch and co-author Roger Bezdak did not set a date for the peaking of oil production, but pointed out that starting to prepare in advance would reduce the impact but that waiting until the peak was upon us would lead to serious economic and societal problems.
In his presentation to the Commission, Dr. Hirsch introduced the concept of peak oil to members of the Commission and those attending the meeting. While I know this is not a new topic to readers of the News-Press, it is not familiar to many people so this background was necessary. Then Dr. Hirsch emphasized that a liquid fuels shortage, a consequence of peak oil, is real and already impacting both the United States and the world at large.
He believes that we need to do everything we can think of to address the problem, although he said that corn ethanol was a mistake as we really don’t want fuel to compete with food. But all other forms of mitigation will be necessary in the near future. It was a serious, almost gloomy message, but one that the Commonwealth needs to respond to.
Next on the agenda was a representative, Dan Beckley, from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S; Department of Energy. He spoke to the issues and challenges of energy demand, climate change, energy security and economic growth – what DOE is doing to address those challenges and what states can do.
The Department is working on sponsoring research to improve energy efficiency in buildings, aiming for zero net energy homes and offices. They also support plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and the development of cellulosic ethanol. He pointed out that the states are leaders in many of these areas and can move forward to implement many of them.
The meeting closed with a presentation from Steve Walz, Senior Advisor for Energy Policy in Virginia, a position established by Governor Kaine. Mr. Walz, a long-time state employee who is expert in energy issues, briefed Commission members on the Virginia Energy Plan adopted last year. At the next meeting, he will report on progress in implementing the goals laid out in the plan.
The Commission will have challenging work this year as we face the urgent realities of an energy future without cheap oil.