Friday, February 17, 2012

The Energy Politics of Incrementalism

For two days last week I sat in a huge room of regulators, utility representatives, federal officials and other D.C. types like myself to hear an in-depth discussion about the future of electricity in America. In a grand experiment known as the National Electricity Forum (sponsored by DOE and NARUC), speaker-after-speaker talked about everything from microgrids to energy storage.

I can't lie, the conversations are of deep interest to me because of the type of work we do here at PCG. However, the debate at this conference left me frustrated. The theme was "Visualizing the 21st Century Electricity Industry." We love to visualize here in Washington. Too bad we don't like to do anything with that vision.

I watched as the U.S. Department of Energy cast a vision for the future, industry leaders shared barriers to getting it done, regulators wringed their hands about the cost to the customer and starry-eyed academics discussed obtuse ideas that may or may not ever gain traction. The problem with this type of discussion is that it isn't going anywhere. We are guessing what the future might be and not trying to shape it through a clear vision that is articulated with a clear message.

When Kennedy stated we should go to the moon, the message was clear. The way to get there became clear because the goal was clear in the first place. The message at this conference was, "we will see." Great! And just how is that going to inspire.

I don't really blame the conference organizers. I think it is indicative of the sometimes sad state of policy development in our country today. We are a people who will not set a vision until we are forced to do so from outside forces or an internal crisis. And so we plod on, making incremental progress with incremental ideas delivered through incremental messages.

It makes me incrementally sad. 

Note: Andy is not always this grumpy, except for sometimes when he writes a post like this.

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