29 May 2008

Book Review: Power of the People: America's New Electricity Choices by Carol Sue Tombari

Imported oil, dirty coal, energy inefficiencies and waste, and truncated investment in alternative energy development have landed us in a quandary. Where do we turn for the power we need to run our wired and wireless economy and our increasingly mobile culture?

Carol Sue Tombari, former director of the State of Texas's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and currently on staff at the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, describes some answers in her new book, Power of the People: America's New Electricity Choices.

Tombari provides a concise and cogent overview of how we got in this mess and a primer for how we can get out of it. Essentially, Tombari argues that we need a combination of vigorous policy agendas and massive investments in what we've called on this blog "The New Green Economy."

We are "sleepwalking toward disaster," argues the author, but she tempers her cynicism with equal doses of optimism and faith -- faith that we have the know-how and ingenuity to get us out of this mess.

If only we would wake up and change where we're going and what we're doing.

"I'm not talking about an overnight energy revolution, Tombari concludes. "Really, it's more like an evolution, incorporating both twentieth- and twenty-first-century technologies as we transition to the completely different, carbon-constrained reality in the coming years."

For anyone who wants a quick study of the path we've been on, as well as the good, the bad, and the balance of those choices, and the potential for alternatives, Power of the People is required reading.

"Renewable energy and energy efficiency can be expected to develop a larger presence in the marketplace," writes Tombari, "especially as the cost of twentieth-century fuels continues to go up and the capital costs of renewables continue to go down."

But our energy "needs remain humongous and continue to grow," Tombari argues. "Energy efficiency in particular will gain significantly greater market share because of its no-regrets nature and the fact that it doesn't require the investment of materials needed by utility-scale technologies."

While "we will continue to rely heavily on central station power plants, especially in the near- and mid-term," according to Tombari, "we as individuals, as neighbors, as citizens of our towns and states, can lead our government...Our roots as a nation are in the grass. We know how to do this."

Her optimism is infectious. Power of the People is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of our nation and our planet.