An enlightened and efficient autocracy

17 09 2009

by: jacob wasag

JW_china rising

The seemingly endless barrage of news coming from the health care debate over the last several months (with the only break coming during the August recess), it is hard to become anything but tired and frustrated with it all. The amount of rhetoric we see in the press and in the blogs, advocating this specific aspect of the bill versus this specific proposal or modification, mixed in with a speech by Mr. Obama (that received as much hype and coverage as a State of the Union address), the least one could describe the health-care debate is as a “long, drawn-out, process”.

Another important issue that has gone through its own “long, drawn-out, process”, albeit to much less attention, is the issue of mitigating climate change and promoting alternative energy technologies. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (or ACES, H.R. 2454), sponsored by California Dem. Rep. Henry Waxman, was passed in the House back in June, after which health-care reform stole the headlines and ACES became an afterthought.

But this is the normal process of a healthy, democratic system, right? There is no other (at least better) way to go about the business of instituting important political changes in a society. Right?

Well if one is to use “getting stuff done” (technical terms, I know) as a measuring stick, then the answer, frankly, is no.

It is generally known that the only major drawback to providing energy from renewable sources is the cost of it. Energy is now seen not so much a commodity, but that one has the right to have it (much like water, but that is another topic). Thus, if it is my right to have the juice for my TV and lights, you will provide it for me and you will provide it at the lowest cost (since I usually don’t want to pay extra for something I use so much). Combine this cost preference and the recent movement towards providing greener alternatives, the only way to promote alternative energies is with the support of government policies (either through tax breaks, subsidies, or portfolio standards). ACES contains certain policies that will do this, but…well you know what.

Contrast this with China: the dirtiest, foulest, most awful smelling and visually displeasing place in the world. The place one gets lung disease the moment you step off the airplane at the hyper-modern Beijing airport. *These preconceptions, by the way, aren’t entirely true.* In fact, China is on its way to becoming the biggest producer of green energy in the world. By a long shot. Take for example a recently announced wind farm project in the desert Oasis town of Dunhuang, in western China:

In the desert near Dunhuang, a wind farm of no less than 10 GW is under construction. When completed, this plant will have an installed capacity of more than twelve times that of the Horse Hollow Wind Farm in Texas, which is currently the biggest in the world.

In addition, also in Dunhuang, a 10 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) system will also be built, enough to power about 10,000 homes (even more in China). Dunhuang is the epicenter of China’s expansion of renewable energy systems, with the only problem being its location and subsequent transmission of this new energy. Dunhuang is a desert oasis in the Gobi Desert (the second largest desert in the world), far from the heavily populated and electricity hungry eastern coast. But thankfully, transporting electricity via power lines is a technology I’m pretty sure we have a decent handle on.

How did this explosion in China happen? Chinese political leaders realize that providing clean energy will be a very significant issue in the near future (just as our political leaders do), but don’t need to go through the bureaucratic maze that health-care reform and ACES is going through. They diagnosed a problem, formulated a plan to address it, and took action.

Chinese authorities are creating more and more barriers to building new coal fired power stations, while renewable energy projects receive easy cash from state-owned banks and are confronted with few regulatory hurdles.

Autocracy at its finest.

I’m not saying that autocracy is a preferable political system. In fact, I support a due process to addressing health-care reform, considering the magnitude of the issue and the amount of change being proposed. However, the alternative energy industry, itself an infant industry when compared to the established coal industry, needs help fostering its growth and development as an economically-viable alternative. In this instance, the Chinese seem to have gotten it right and goals are being realized, while we are left to wait for our own government promotion.

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28 01 2014
Deana

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