Texas Citizens for Science
P. O. Box 13022
Odessa, TX 79768-3022
Testimony of Steven Schafersman to the Texas Energy Planning Council
Midland, Texas | March 22, 2004
Texas Citizens for Science promotes the use of accurate scientific information in Texas education and government. One charge of the Texas Energy Planning Council is to "Explore common sense ways to reduce energy consumption through practical energy conservation measures." I hope that the Council will take this responsibility very seriously, since a Texas energy plan without a strong energy conservation element will fail. Indeed, there is no way for your energy plan to reach its goal of future energy availability and sustainability for Texas without new energy growth being equally matched by energy conservation. Here's why: We waste a tremendous amount of energy in Texas. The United States, with 6% of the world's population, uses 25% of the worlds energy, and this is not due solely to a larger economy. We are far less energy-efficient than the major European and Asian industrialized countries with comparable residential and industrial energy needs and standards of living. Of the fifty states, Texas consumes the most energy, especially petroleum by an enormous degree, and so is more responsible than other states for our country's poor energy efficiency. Increasing energy supply by importing more petroleum at ever-increasing prices is not a financially rational plan for energy sustainability and economic efficiency. Only conservation--which has enormous potential in the U.S. and especially Texas since so much energy is now wasted--can achieve the desired results of reducing energy demand, thus ensuring the balanced energy economy we require. (I do not have the opportunity here to document the statistics, but they are easily available and I will provide links to all sources on the TCS website at http://www.txscience.org/energy.php.)
Perhaps the most egregious waste of energy is the poor energy-efficiency of many personal vehicles: SUVs, light trucks, and vans. The gas guzzlers are heavier than needed and have poor gas mileage. The average fuel economy of personal vehicles has declined to the lowest levels since 1980. Cars and light trucks use 40% of U.S. refined oil and emit 20% of the nations carbon dioxide. U.S. personal vehicles alone emit more air pollution than all but four countries on Earth. The extremely poor fuel economy, high pollution, and unnecessary weight and size of many personal vehicles make them the outstanding target for regulatory efforts to conserve petroleum in Texas. All personal vehicles should be taxed at a much higher rate that is inversely proportional to their fuel economy (miles per gallon). In Texas, we won't call this a tax, but rather a fee, and include this extra fee at purchase and for every annual license renewal. The fee should be extremely steep: for hybrid cars that make 65 mpg it should be $5, for compact autos that make 30-34 mpg it should be about $100, but for SUVs, trucks, humvees, and high-performance automobiles that make 8-12 mpg it should be at least $1000 a year. Energy abusers and polluters should be asked to pay for their excessive energy use that is far above what is necessary or sustainable, and individuals that are able or willing to pay for these expensive vehicles should be able to afford the new vehicle energy fee.
The proceeds of this new fee should be totally designated to help pay for the Texas public school system. If more money is needed to support public education, gasoline, natural gas, and coal could be taxed at higher marginal rates, although the main tax should be applied to large energy-wasting personal vehicles. This solution will have four outstanding beneficial effects: gasoline demand will be lowered and petroleum conserved, air pollution will decrease as more fuel-efficient vehicles are purchased, highways will become safer as people buy fewer large and dangerous SUVs and trucks, and public schools will be financially supported by a continuous financial source. Note that tax incentives or credits for purchasing fuel efficient vehicles will bring in less revenue and will not have the vital fourth effect of supporting public education, nor will it be sufficient disincentive to inhibit purchase of inefficient and polluting vehicles. The new personal vehicle energy fee is the best common sense and practical energy conservation measure I can recommend, and it will be the simplest and most efficient measure that will allow this Council to achieve its goals for Texas.
On a less controversial issue, I also strongly support development of alternative renewable energy sources, and I know that all of you agree with me on this, since Texas is already a national leader in alternative energy. My suggestion is locate solar energy panels underneath the windmills here in West Texas; since some people consider them to be unsightly, it makes sense to keep them together and thus disrupt the landscape as little as possible. Also, such wind-solar renewable energy farms should be designed to provide electrical power directly to adjacent plants that produce hydrogen and oxygen by the electrolysis of water, and thus create a non-polluting source of hydrogen for fuel cells. As you are probably well aware, hydrogen fuel cells do not cause less air pollution if the hydrogen is derived from hydrocarbons, which is the primary source today, or by electrolysis of water using electricity derived from coal or natural gas. In fact, powering fuel-cell vehicles that burn hydrogen derived from those sources actually pollutes and wastes energy as much as using refined gasoline. Only hydrogen derived from the renewable wind-, solar-, and geothermal-powered electrolysis of water is a cost-effective and environmentally-beneficial method for powering fuel cells, so we need to start developing this capability immediately. We have plenty of wind and sunlight in West Texas to safely and economically create electricity, and produced oil-field waters can be used as the water source if the water is first desalinized using the renewable wind-solar electricity (the solid salt will have to be hauled away; surface water and ground water are now in too short supply in West Texas to use for electrolysis; wind-solar farms could be located in oil fields to obtain sufficient produced water without the expense of pipelines, or--even better--transmission lines could carry the renewable electricity to electrolysis sites in oil fields where brines are readily available).
Finally, I would strongly recommend your support for funding a power tube experiment or prototype to generate electricity using geothermal heat from depleted deep-strata oil fields in West Texas, as advocated by Dr. Richard Erdlach of CEED and Power Tube, Inc. of Austin at http://www.powertubeinc.com.
Steven Schafersman (Ph.D., Geology, Rice University, 1983) was a petroleum geologist in Houston during 1978-1984, a college and university science instructor or professor during 1974-1978 and 1984-2002, and is currently a science writer, teacher, and consultant living in Midland. He taught the petroleum geology course at the University of Houston during 1985-1987. He is the president of Texas Citizens for Science, an organization formed to promote the use of accurate and reliable scientific knowledge by Texas public schools and government agencies.