Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.
October 2, 2006
Good afternoon. Thanks for logging in to Ask the White House.
First off, Id like to let everyone know that October is Energy Awareness Month. Our website, http://www.energysavers.gov/ provides useful information to help all Americans save energy in your home, business, vehicle, or industrial plant and I encourage you to take a look. This is part of the President's comprehensive, long-term energy strategy that promotes research, development and commercialization of clean, reliable, and renewable energy sources to strengthen our economic and national security.
Second, Id like to tell you about some of the important projects taking place at the Department of Energy. We are promoting greater energy efficiency and expanding research to encourage greater use of renewable energy like solar and wind power. The Department of Energy continues to be the largest funder of basic scientific research and development in the physical sciences. This commitment will allow our nation to continue leading the world in scientific breakthroughs and innovation.
President Bush said in his State of the Union address that we need to break our addiction to oil. This is something we take very seriously. We are working to achieve the goals laid out in President Bushs Advanced Energy Initiative, which seeks to change the way we power our cars, homes and businesses. To reduce our dependence on oil we need a diversity of supply and a diversity of suppliers. The Advanced Energy Initiative proposes to spend more than $2.1 billion to fund research and development of alternative and renewable energy sources. By providing new sources of energy to the market, we can dampen overall demand and also power our growing economy with clean energy that is produced right here in the U.S.
Later this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and I will head to St. Louis, Missouri, to kick off Advancing Renewable Energy, a conference jointly hosted by our two departments. We hope that this conference will help identify the breakthroughs that are necessary for making more alternative energy sources available to consumers soon. I encourage you to visit www.energy.gov for more information.
As I alluded to earlier, theres a lot of good work taking place at the Department of Energy. And what I described above is just the tip of the iceberg. Now, Id be happy to answer some of your questions.
Michael, from NYC writes:
In addition, every day we use about 20 million barrels of crude oil thats 25 percent of the worlds consumption. So as the largest consumer of crude oil, we have to do what we can to diversify our supply and our suppliers. Some of that diversity can come from ethanol.
Currently, we are on a path towards greater use of ethanol and other plant-based bio-fuels to power our cars and trucks. Last year, America produced 4 billion gallons of ethanol. This year were expecting that number to be closer to 6 billion gallons. However, in order to produce 6 million gallons of ethanol, we will use nearly 20 percent of our nations corn crop.
In his State of the Union Address, President Bush unveiled his Advanced Energy Initiative which proposes spending $150 million on research into biomass. That will allow us to fund research into cellulosic ethanol which will allow us to make transportation fuel from switch grass, wood chips and other inedible plant waste.
As I said at the outset, anyone who is interested in the subject of bio-fuels is welcome to attend the October 10-12 renewable fuels conference in St. Louis. I encourage
everyone to visit www.energy.gov for more information.
Jeff, from Ely, Nevada
This seems like a lot of information, but its good to know that consumers have more practical and affordable options when going to fill up their car or truck.
In the longer term, its important that Americans know that there is a substantial amount of research currently underway at our national labs and in the private sector to find better and cheaper ways to manufacture bio-fuels from plants that are usually just plowed under the technical term for it is cellulosic ethanol. Breakthroughs in bio-fuel technology may make it possible for us to rely on more than just E85 as we move toward our national goal of replacing 30 percent of current U.S. petroleum consumption with bio-fuels by the year 2030.
Eric, from St. Louis, MO
The St. Louis conference is really the first time that many of the key stakeholders from three critical renewable energy sectors solar, biofuels, and wind will all be together to discuss ways to accelerate the commercialization of their technologies. In addition, we are going to have members of the venture capital world as well as government representatives and university and private companies there to discuss ways everyone can work together to bring more renewable fuels to market sooner.
We want to make sure that the research we are supporting through the national labs and through other government activities continue to line up with the private sectors efforts and that everyone understands the full scope of the issues were examining. The government plays a key role in the research and development of renewable energy technology but, by working with the private sector, we can accelerate the pace of change, getting cheaper, cleaner renewable fuels to consumers faster.
Lynn, from San Francisco, CA
As you know, the energy issues that we are facing today took decades to develop and theyre not going to be solved overnight. But the more people learn about the issues and about what they can do, the faster we will get the solutions we can all live with.
As to your question the cost of renewable fuels while something we are very focused on is not the only reason alternative fuels have not widely used by the American public. There is the issue of availability, something we are working on very hard on right now. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, we were able to offer tax credits and other types of assistance to fuel vendors who chose to make alternative transportation fuels like E85 available. I have been to more than one ribbon cutting at new E85 pumps in the last year and I am hopeful that I will get to go to even more in the future.
In addition, the Department of Energy recently awarded nearly $8.5 million to fund more E85 fueling stations throughout the country. We see this as a positive step. Because not only is ethanol a cleaner fuel, but it is also something that we can produce right here in the United States, throughout rural America. This brings jobs and economic development to the heartland of the country.
You mention the cost of ethanol as a problem. Currently, ethanol is cost competitive with gasoline. It costs about $1.10 to produce a gallon of ethanol from corn. However, it costs about $2.20 to produce a gallon of ethanol from cellulose (non-corn feedstocks). So we need to fund research that will lead to the lowering of the price of cellulosic ethanol. And thats where the Presidents Advanced Energy initiative comes into play. The Initiative will fund new research by our leading labs and biotech companies.
Im proud of our nations biotech industry. It is the worlds leader. There is a lot of work going on right now to develop cheaper ways to make alternative fuels, particularly biofuels, and I am confident that we will see major breakthroughs during President Bushs term.
Joshua, from Milwaukee Wisconsin
If youre asking about what the Department of Energy is doing to prepare for the winter, let me say that we are doing everything we know how to do that works, to make sure there is a reliable and affordable supply of energy available for you, and for all Americans, all year round.
In terms of pricing, Im not one to forecast or make predictions. Right now, the Energy Information Administration the statistical arm of DOE is predicting high levels of natural gas inventories when winter begins, which means prices should stay about where they are now. But those projections are based on an average winter temperature. Some winters are significantly colder than others and some are warmer.
Having spent much of my life in Boston, I know how cold it can get in places like New England in December, January and February and home heating oil and gas has to be affordable. Its not a luxury item its a necessity. So to make sure that year after year, people have what is necessary to heat their homes, we are doing everything we can now, to plan for the years ahead, particularly in terms of diversifying our nations energy mix. We want to incorporate more nuclear power and clean coal into our nations mix. We want to incorporate renewable and alternative sources of energy anywhere and everywhere its deemed appropriate, affordable, and practical for consumers, which is why the scientific research we pursue and oversee now is so critical to our future energy needs.
Scott, from China writes:
President Bush has been focused on energy issues since his first weeks in office and will, I am certain, be focused on them on his last day. Energy issues are tied, in more ways than one, to the health of the U.S. economy. Fortunately, after a clear plan and years of hard work, this Administration was able to win passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the first comprehensive and strategic energy plan enacted in over a decade. This new law, together with the Presidents American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) and the Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI), form the basis of our strategy to enhance U.S. energy security and protect the health of our economy.
The Department of Energy plays a critical role in both the ACI a plan to maintain U.S. global leadership in science and technology and the AEI which calls for significant new investment in the most promising clean energy technologies. Our website, www.energy.gov, has a wealth of information on all that we are doing on these issues and on everything else the department is doing. I urge you and everyone participating in this chat to check it out.
Getting to your question about high energy prices slowing down the economy time and time again, the U.S. economy has proven to be resilient and robust. This is really a testament to the American worker. However as the President said, rising energy prices are like a tax on the American family. Its an unexpected costs that families must endure to live their lives and if families are spending an extra dollar on gasoline or electricity, its a dollar they cant spend on clothing or saving for a college education. Thats why the work that we are doing to diversify our energy sources is so important.
We wont solve all of our problems in a day, but with hard work and the proper investment we will all be able to enjoy a more energy secure tomorrow.
Scott, from Grove City, PA
Its been more than 20 years since we built a nuclear power plant in this country. The technology has improved dramatically in that time. We think that its time to start building again and, with the help of the Energy Policy Act signed by President Bush last summer, of 2005, were closer to making great strikes to make a new generation of cheap, clean nuclear power a reality for millions of Americans. For example, one of the hurdles nuclear power industry faces is uncertainty about the kinds of regulatory delays they may face. To help address this problem and encourage new construction, the Energy Policy Act provides up to $2 billion dollars (total) in federal risk insurance to help the first utility companies building the next six new nuclear power plants in the United States.
In addition, to help meet the worldwide growing demand for electricity in an environmentally responsible way, the President proposed the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP. This is a cooperative partnership aimed to perfect the technology for recycling nuclear fuel, and provide safe, affordable, and proliferation-resistant power plants to developing nations, while also reducing the amount spent fuel.
I should also mention the critical importance of opening Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nations geologic repository for spent nuclear waste. Congress has voted for Yucca as the best site. The science supports Yucca as the best site. We need to get Yucca Mountain open, and our new Assistant Secretary for Civilian Nuclear Waste, Ward Sproat, has an ambitious plan to do just that. Please visit www.energy.gov.
Marc, from Seattle writes:
However, the there are two really promising technologies that I think are under-developed and under-utilized now that I believe can have a significant impact on our nations energy security.
One is ethanol. Ive talked at length about the importance of ethanol and all that we are doing. But the other is in the field of photovoltaics or solar power. As part of the Presidents Advanced Energy Initiative, we are proposing to spend $148 million next year to bring a new generation of solar technology to market. We believe that additional research can make solar panels more efficient and more accessible to more people. I believe that we can power as many as 2 million more homes with clean renewable solar power in just the next few years.
In addition, I would like to mention a campaign that we are working on called Change-a-Light, Change-the-World. As part of the campaign, Im asking people to replace a couple of light bulbs in their homes and offices with energy-efficient, EnergyStar Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs, or C-F-Ls as theyre more commonly referred to. By doing this, you can save energy and money.
For instance, a 32-watt CFL, produces the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb, but consumes two-thirds less electricity and lasts ten times as long. And the savings, both for the individual consumer and the country as a whole, add up fast. If every household took the pledge and swapped out just one regular incandescent bulb for an Energy-Star CFL, the overall consumption of electricity would be cut by 5.6 billion kilowatt hours and we would save $526 million on our electricity bills.
James, from San Jose, California
At DOE, just two weeks ago, we released the Climate Change Technology Strategic Plan that builds on much of this research. This 100-year plan establishes guidelines for formulating technology research and development portfolios to identify areas for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The technologies outlined in the plan - hydrogen, biorefining, clean coal, carbon sequestration, nuclear fission and fusion to name a few - we believe, will transform our economy and address not just climate change, but energy security and air pollution as well.
Additionally EPAct and the Advanced Energy Initiative set forth investments and incentives that promote clean energy technologies to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The AEI as we call it at the Department increases investments in Future Gen - a zero-emission coal-fired power plant, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. It will also improve batteries for hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, accelerate the development of zero-emission cars that run on hydrogen, and support biofuels like ethanol.
We're also leading or participating in a number of international partnerships that include countries like China and India and seek to expand markets for investment and trade in cleaner, more efficient energy technologies, goods, and services.
Raymond, from Stratford,CT writes:
And I think it can be done. A few months ago I visited the Departments National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado where I dedicated a $22 million Science and Technology Facility. The lab will bring together the best and brightest from the government and private sectors to work on enhancing our solar technology.
The solar energy industry has been growing at an annual rate of more than 35 percent worldwide in recent years with no letup in sight. This is also an industry in which the U.S. has consistently been a global technology leader. And with the help of this new facility and the Solar America Initiative, I believe American companies will stay among the worldwide leaders of this industry for years to come.
john, from texas writes:
You make a valid point about the need to maintain our investment in renewable energy sources. This Administration and the Department of Energy remain committed to expanding the amount of clean energy we produce here at home and reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil. For the past five and half years when oil prices have been high, low and everything in between we have continued to move ahead with renewable energy research. From hydrogen fuel cells, to hybrid electric cars, to ethanol and forms of biofuels, we are pushing the envelope to move America beyond the petroleum-based economy and into a new age of clean, abundant energy.