Republican calls for US energy pivot

Fred Upton, the Republican who chairs the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee within the House of Representatives, has laid out his vision for a new US energy policy based on “abundance”, signaling how Republicans may approach energy issues in upcoming elections.

Much of Upton’s plan for a new “architecture of abundance” will be grating to the renewables industry.

His vision calls for the US to drop many of the policies it adopted as a result of energy shortages during the 1970s, and instead embrace its newfound energy wealth – including unleashing “energy diplomacy” on the world.

Upton – who accepts climate change is happening but not that it is man-made – also calls for huge investments in energy infrastructure, particularly transmission and distribution (including the controversial Keystone XL pipeline); the continued build-up of a “diverse” electricity generation base, including renewables, coal and nuclear; and more innovation in the energy and energy-efficiency spaces.

“We need to construct a whole range of tools to take full advantage of our energy abundance,” says Upton. “We need to better connect these resources to the people who need them. And we need to do it in a safe and responsible way that protects the environment.”

Thanks to the fracking revolution, the US this year overtook Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest combined producer of oil and gas. In 2005 the US produced just 65% of the energy it consumed; last year that figure rose to 84%.

Some aspects of the Republican’s plan may be helpful to renewables.

For example, House Republicans are pushing for faster approvals of natural gas export licenses, on the back of the shale-gas boom. Some environmentalists oppose greater fossil-fuel exports on principle, as do some manufacturing groups, which fear that greater exports would lead to a rise in natural gas prices domestically.

But many US renewables developers would view higher US gas prices very favourably.

On the other hand, the renewables sectors in places like Japan and Europe might take a less positive view of low-cost US gas flooding into their markets.

“We have an opportunity to use our energy as a diplomatic tool,” says Upton. “We can take care of our domestic needs and have enough energy left to let our allies buy it from us, rather than being held hostage to unstable regions of the world.”

Upton, of Michigan, has held his House seat for nearly 30 years, and the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee since the Republicans recaptured control of the House in the 2010 mid-term elections. He took over the role from the Democrat Henry Waxman, a widely respected pro-renewables climate hawk.