Al Gore had an op-ed in the Times Sunday, laying out a five-point plan for 100% carbon-free electricity in 10 years:
- Big solar and wind projects from Texas to the Dakotas, and new geothermal plants.
- A “unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity”. This would cost $400 billion, but save $120 billion a year that's wasted under the current regime, according to Gore;
- Conversion to plug-in hybrids, which could also double as electricity storage batteries to plug back into the grid;
- Retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency;
- Cap and trade, leadership on deforestation.
The incoming Dems do indeed have an opportunity and obligation to act, in that
- The public is definitely looking to the government to guide us out of the financial crisis, as well as take the lead on any number of issues where the market has failed.
- Huge chunks of the private sector need the government to step in and save their bacon — and everyone else's, by extension.
- Democrats, who even in normal circumstances are more comfortable with government intervention in the economy, are about to take power.
I'd call that a mandate — a demand by the public (and indeed, by the circumstances themselves) to make things work. And so for better or worse, government will have a freer hand than it's had perhaps since World War II.
I talked with Gore's old pal Rep. Ed Markey about Gore's ambitions and timeline at the convention in August; Markey was politely skeptical that it could be pulled off within ten years.
Then again, that was before the financial crisis and the new consensus that we're going to have to spend our way out of the recession. And with enhanced Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, there are fewer excuses. And furthermore, since the auto companies are begging the federal government for cash, maybe there's now an opportunity to rope in the plug-in hybrid part of Gore's equation. Perhaps many things are possible, or even necessary, that weren't back in August.
Why not a big investment in efficient-energy infrastructure? Is this the silver lining to the financial crisis?