“Good Bye to All That” – Secretary Chu Leaves Department of Energy

February 4, 2013 |

Chu-SolyndraChu, in Review

by Robert Kozak, Advanced Biofuels USA

Secretary of the Department of Energy Steven Chu announced his resignation Friday in a 3,700 word “Dear Colleague” address. While this is the time usually reserved for valedictory addresses or sentimental remembrances, I for one cannot do that. For me, and I’d guess other supporters of biofuels and all those who support balanced leadership of all DOE programs, it is a time of Good Bye to All That and a hope that the future will be better.

Yesterday I was at the Washington DC Auto Show/Industry Day where Secretary Chu made his last public appearance before the announcement. It encapsulated all the traits that made a shambles of US biofuel/bioenergy policy while continuing his elevation of the poor selling and poor performing electric car to the pedestal of savior.

To set the stage. Just before his appearance, Nissan Automotive was on the schedule at the show. Their topic? Dropping the price of the electric Leaf by $2,000-$3,000 to improve sales. Would that be the marketing strategy of a company with a hot, in-demand product? About 10,000 Leafs were sold in the US last year by Nissan. The sales goal announced for 2012 was around 20,000. What else could they do but try dropping the price, which still left the Leaf priced considerably above a comparably equipped Nissan Sentra that runs on liquid fuel.

Another interesting fact was reported by the Nissan speaker. 90% of all Nissan recharges (which take about 3 hours) were performed at the home. This was happening despite millions of dollars of public money having been spent on public and place-of-work chargers.

On to Secretary Chu’s performance.

The Secretary was introduced by David Danielson who is the head of the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Mr. Danielson stated upfront that the task of DOE was to support President Obama’s “All of the Above” energy strategy. So what is one of the first things we hear Secretary Chu say?

That the US will reduce our dependence on foreign oil with EVs (electric vehicles), LNG, CHG, and hydrogen.

That’s right, biofuels are not mentioned. In his speech they were not part of “All of the Above.”

Furthermore, he didn’t mention the need for the development of every economically possible method to reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHGs),  which is the Federally mandated goal of the new 54.5 mpg automobile fuel economy standards.

What did he talk about? EVs. How great they will be. How the government needs to spend even more tax dollars on public charging stations so people will buy them. How they will lower consumer electrical costs.

How there will be 1 million of them on the road by his 2015-2016 deadline even though there are about 50,000 on the road in 2013 and sales are not going well. How they should be marketed as a great way to address his displeasure with getting gasoline on his hands when he pumps fuel. (I wonder how often this happens since he said earlier that he doesn’t own a car?)

What happened to “All of the Above?” What happened to the importance of how 10% ethanol in our fuel reduces oil imports by about 900,000 barrels a day while also reducing GHGs? And, while you knew you were leaving yesterday, what happened to thanking the people of EERE for all the hard work they are putting into the development of new, even lower GHG biofuels?

For me, Good Bye to All That. Good bye to devoting all your time to only your pet projects. Good bye to failed lithium-ion batteries (Boeing 787s anyone?). Good bye to confusing Congressional budget sequestering with carbon sequestration.

I look forward to a new time, a new land, a place where a DOE Secretary will provide leadership for the entire portfolio of EERE programs. I look forward to a DOE secretary who knows that only renewable energies, and not natural gas, will get us on a straight path to mitigating climate change and reducing oil imports. I look forward to better and clearer days in this new land.

Good bye to all that.

This essay is reprinted with permission from Advanced Biofuels USA, which promotes public understanding, acceptance, and use of advanced biofuels by promoting research, development and improvement of advanced biofuels technologies, production, marketing and delivery; and by promoting the sustainable development, cultivation and processing of advanced biofuels crops, and agricultural and forestry residues and wastes.

Note from the Digest. Nissan announced last month that it would be shifting from emphasis of battery-powered EVs to liquid fuel-powered hybrids. More on the rationale, here – and on the dismal sales of 14,687 battery-electric cars in the US, or 0.1% of US auto sales.

And, incidentally — the Obama Administration, via the DOE, appears to be prepping the public for the inevitable – that the US will not put 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015.

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