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Republican Congressman installs geothermal energy, expresses fundamental understanding of our energy challenges

March 10th, 2016 · No Comments

Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-1), with a lifetime League of Conservation Voters (LCV) rating of 18%, recently replaced his heating system with a geothermal heating cooling system.

His description of why to this:

“I had an inclination to want to do it because I’m interested in trying to drive toward micro-energy production, distributed energy, conservation and even the potential of seeing the household become a net energy producer. So these are all the reasons I did it, but it obviously had to make financial sense. And this is a longer-term horizon but not so long term as to be prohibitive.”

Honestly, rather unusual language to see from a Republican Congressman.

He leveraged Federal and state programs to improve the cost effectiveness of his purchase that he expects to earn back the costs in about six years.  His explanation, as to the reason why those programs are legitimate, are truly surprising to see from someone with a 9% LCV 2015 rating.

“I’ve supported these things. The conservative logic, if you will, is the externality costs of the hydrocarbons are not accounted for in production costs. That creates an unleveled playing field. There is real social cost to that, it’s just not reflected in the market price.”

An explicit statement that there are real costs for burning oil, coal, and natural gas — that using them causes damages to third parties (today and into the future).  This is a core fact, a core truth that is too often simply unacknowledged by those on the ideological right.

“So that’s why you justify a movement toward a much more balanced portfolio, as aggressive as we can, toward a more sustainable energy set of systems for the country. And you’re in effect subsidizing, yes, the cost of that, but it’s offset by the decline in the externality cost of other forms of energy.”

In other words, there is not — net — a subsidy to renewable energy and energy efficiency if you think serious about “the externality cost of other forms of energy’.

If Representative Jeff Fortenberry could convert a meaningful share of the Republican House caucus to understanding this fundamental truth, we might find paths toward bipartisan paths to #ActOnClimate in a meaningful way … “as aggressive as we can”


Note: The article has several interesting points, gaps, and errors:

  • Social power & networking:  There is much analysis about how people learn and act. If recycling containers are open, people are more likely to recycle due to social norms. Solar house installations are more likely if there are already solar panels in the neighborhood. Your neighbors, friends, colleagues matter to you.  How did the Congressman become interested in Geothermal? “Inspired by a staffer’s experience, Fortenberry began to research a replacement unit powered by geothermal energy.”
  • Secondary benefits: Geothermal is much more efficient for heating and cooling, which leads to lower energy use. But, there are numerous additional benefits. Some of these are directly financial (reduced maintenance, longer longevity). However, some of them are not financial — but might be of much greater value to the homeowner:  there is no outdoor heat pump (thus freeing up land) and there is no outdoor fan unit (reducing noise pollution).
  • Geothermal heating/cooling doesn’t ‘generate power’:  The article calls this a ‘renewable powered’ system. Geothermal systems — that rely on the steady temperatures of the earth — are far more energy efficient than using air exchange for heating/cooling (for most of the year). While there are geothermal systems generating electricity (such at the 270 megawatt facility at the Navy’s China Lake facility), the Congressman is not generating electricity.
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Tags: economics