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Articles by David Morris

David Morris has been a consultant or adviser to the energy departments of Presidents Ford, Carter, Clinton, and George W. Bush. For six years, David served on a congressionally created advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Energy and USDA on biomass-related issues. David is vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs the Institute's New Rules Project.

Featured Article

Cross-posted from AlterNet.

On Sept. 22, in a speech to 100 world leaders gathered at the United Nations to discuss climate change, President Barack Obama declared the U.S. “determined to act.”

But at the same time, word began to circulate on Capitol Hill that the Senate might be equally determined not to vote on the climate bill any time soon.

“We are going to have a busy, busy time the rest of this year,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “We still have next year to complete things, if we have to.”

The bill is bogged down in part because of contentious and extended negotiations over health care. But to a greater degree, it is stalled because it is so flawed.

Indeed, the House bill is so bad that even those who supported it did so reluctantly. During the House debate, my friend Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, board chairman of the International Earth Day Network and veteran of many a legislative battle wrote a column that offered four strong reasons to reject the bill and then concluded, “If I were in Congress, I would hold my nose and vote for the Waxman-Markey bill.&#... Read more

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  • Why does the much-touted climate bill look like it was stolen from the Republican playbook?

    “Command and control” is a military term the Republicans long ago appropriated to caricature and condemn Democratic programs. Republicans like to contrast the Democrats’ embrace of a command and control, regulation-based you-will-do-as-I-say-or-else strategy with their own, presumably, more effective market-based we-will-make-it-worthwhile-for-you-to-do-what-we-want approach. Nowhere is the phrase “command and control” used more often and with more […]

  • A smart grid, yes. A new national grid, no.

    The new mantra in energy circles is "national smart grid."

    In the New York Times, Al Gore insists the new president should give the highest priority to "the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid." President Barack Obama, responding to a question by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, declares that one of "the most important infrastructure projects that we need is a whole new electricity grid ... a smart grid."

    We lump together the two words, "national" and "smart" as if they were joined at the hip, but in fact each describes and enables a very different electricity future. The word "national" in these discussions refers to the construction of tens of thousands of miles of new national ultra-high-voltage transmission lines, an initiative that would further separate power plants from consumers, and those who make the electricity decisions from those who feel the impact of those decisions.

    The word "smart," on the other hand, refers to upgrading the existing network to make it more resilient and efficient. A smart grid can decentralize both generation and authority. Sophisticated electronic sensors, wireless communication, software and ever-more powerful computers will connect electricity customers and suppliers in real time, making possible a future in which tens of millions of households and businesses actively interact with the electricity network as both consumers and producers.

    Advocates of a new national ultra-high-voltage transmission network offer three main arguments:

    1. New high-voltage transmission lines are needed to decrease electric grid congestion and therefore increase reliability and security.

    There is indeed congestion on some parts of our distribution and transmission networks. Congestion reveals a problem; it doesn't demand a specific solution. It can be addressed by reducing demand through increasing energy efficiency or by increasing on-site or local energy production. Both strategies are often less costly and quicker to implement than building new transmission lines. An analogy from the solid-waste sector may be appropriate. Exhausting nearby landfills does not inevitably require us to send our garbage to new and more distant landfills. We can emphasize recycling, composting, scrap-based manufacturing and reuse.

    2. A new national high-voltage transmission network is necessary to dramatically increase renewable energy.

    President Obama wants to build new transmission lines because, "I want to be able to get wind power from North Dakota to population centers, like Chicago." Writing in Vanity Fair, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wants a new high-voltage transmission system to "deliver solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy across the country."

    But do we really need to deliver renewable energy across the country? The distinguishing characteristic of renewable energy is its availability in abundant quantities virtually everywhere.

  • Memo to President-elect Barack Obama on democratizing the energy system

    Dear President-elect Obama, Congratulations on your historic election. Now the truly heavy lifting begins. You have declared your intention to make "a new energy economy" your "No. 1 priority." We urge you to follow a path that leads not only to changes in the fuels underpinning our energy system but also to changes in the […]

  • Strengthening community is an important benefit of eating locally

    The following is a guest essay originally posted at AlterNet by David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

    Some 30 years ago NASA came up with another big idea: assemble vast solar electric arrays in space and beam the energy to earth. The environmental community did not dismiss NASA's vision out of hand. After all, the sun shines 24 hours a day in space. A solar cell on earth harnesses only about four hours equivalent of full sunshine a day. If renewable electricity could be generated more cheaply in space than on earth, what's the problem?

    A number of us argued that the problem was inherent in the scale of the power plant. Whereas rooftop solar turns us into producers, builds our self-confidence, and strengthens our sense of community as we trade electricity back and forth with our neighbors, space-based solar arrays aggravate our dependence. By dramatically increasing the distance between us and a product essential to our survival, we become more insecure. The scale of the technology requires a global corporation, increasing the distance between those who make the decisions and those who feel the impact of those decisions. Which, in turn, demands a global oversight body, itself remote and nontransparent to electric consumers.