What does Waxman-Markey have to say about kites?

Michael Giberson

The answer to the title question is “nothing,” according to Marc Gunther (though he admits of the difficulty of being certain when the bill is 932 pages and still in process). The kind of kites he has in mind are high-altitude solar power collectors, under development by the Makani Power company. That Waxman-Markey has nothing to say on kites is a good thing, says Gunther, since no one knows whether the idea is practical or likely to become economical.

Gunther then contrasts that silence to the many mentions of coal, cars, battery technology, financial services, wood stoves, and so on, and stumbles onto the conclusion that it all adds up to a heavy-handed attempt to manage the energy economy via central government industrial policy.

After quoting the bill’s elaborate conditions for coal plants to gain federal assistance for carbon capture and storage, and terms by which the plant’s could lose access to federal assistance, which may or may not be under an accelerated timetable, and for which the EPA might or might not grant extensions to particular non-complying generators, Gunther observes:

This is the kind of thing that worries me about Waxman-Markey in particular and about the willingness of the Obama administration more generally to manage so much of the economy—energy, autos, financial services. It’s hard, nay, impossible to know if CCS is a smart, workable and affordable technology or when, if ever, it should be deployed. Maybe kites are a better idea. Maybe not. But should the government decide?

It’s not just clean coal. As I wrote last week, Obama & Co. are ready to place bets on which companies and regions are likely to develop battery technology for electric cars.

[…more quotes on geothermal heat pumps and wood pellet stoves…]

Do you see the problem here? Just to be clear, I don’t have a position on biomass stoves and geothermal heat pumps. I just don’t think the government should have a position either.

To be sure, we need an energy revolution. … But how do we get from here to there? With clean coal? Electric-car batteries? Heat pumps? Wood stoves? Kites?

The unfortunate answer is no one knows. Not the president, not Congress, not Nobel laureate and energy secretary Chu, not venture capitalists or energy company CEOS or Fred Krupp or Jeff Immelt or Joe Romm. Our energy and climate problems are knowledge problems, too. And the best way to solve knowledge problems – which is to say the best way to spur technology change – is to create conditions that get lots of scientists and engineers to work on them, invite lots of investors to place their bets on which ones will work and then test those ideas in the marketplace. By aggregating thousands of decisions, markets will help us figure out which of today’s technologies or which ones yet to be invented get us closer to the clean energy economy we need.

Did you notice the felicitous phrase embedded twice in that last paragraph, “knowledge problems”?

[Via the Energy Collective.]


2 thoughts on “What does Waxman-Markey have to say about kites?

  1. The “KP” caught my eye. I also liked “ideas in the marketplace” and “markets will help us” too. I get tired of the hand-wringing from folks who should know better but don’t when they gasp for government help on the future of energy. Let the federal government get back to what it was originally assigned, interstate commerce (i.e. transmission of power over state lines,) and let the power utilities figure out the best way to supply and distribute the power. The latter is best done by employing market forces.

  2. We’re assuming that the Waxman-Markey/Obama Administration/environmentalists are interested in finding the best energy system/mix. That’s an erroneous assumption. They don’t like the energy system that has arisen in the market, so their going to mandate a different one. Economic efficiency don’t enter into their calculations. They have a different agenda.

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