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Fueling the future

 

Turn on the television, open the newspaper, or go online any day of the week and youíre bound to get inundated with news about the nationís and worldís energy crisis.

Eager to help the region play a critical role in reshaping the national energy strategy, the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University delved into this hot issue at its Midwest Energy Solutions symposium on October 28, 2008. Held at the Peoria Civic Center, the conference included speakers representing the full gamut of alternative and renewable energy sources as well as leaders from varied organizations and the government, such as retired Illinois Congressman and current US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a Bradley alumnus.

Ray LaHood

Ray LaHood
US Secretary of Transportation

"The symposium brought together experts who focused on Midwest energy sources and emerging technologies that can help relieve Americaís reliance on foreign oil and looked at what specific public policy changes needed to happen in the next Congress in order to advance these energy sources into our national energy program," Brad McMillan, IPL director, said.

"I donít think there is a single issue that will more dramatically affect the future prosperity and development in the United States than the supply of energy," said Dr. John Engdahl, Bradley University Donald V. Fites Chair of Engineering and Technology, as he set the stage for the daylong event by providing background information on the energy crisis with fellow Bradley faculty member and Department of Economics Chair Dr. Robert Scott. Examining the energy issue is nothing new for Engdahl and Scott, who address the topic routinely in Economics and Technology of Energy, a class offered in mechanical engineering and economics. They jointly teach the class, Scott said, "because we realize the importance of combining business and public policy together with technological understanding."

Explaining how the energy crisis developed over time in this industrial nation is not difficult, Scott said, as he related that population and income growth affect usage. "Income drives consumption. Consumption drives energy use." World energy demand is also increasing because of the growth of income in Brazil, India, Russia, and China.

Brad McMillan

Brad McMillan Director of Institute for Principled Leadership

McMillan stressed that the solution needs to be comprehensive. "There really is no silver bullet. It needs to be thoughtful. We need to look at a lot of different energy sources, our own countryís energy sources, in order to reshape our national energy strategy."

LaHood also stressed the need for a comprehensive solution. "Itís not just drilling; thatís a piece of it. Itís not just biofuels; thatís a piece of it. Itís hydrogen. Itís electric. Itís nuclear. Itís wind. Itís solar. Itís cap and trade. Part of it has to be the automobile industries and the last part of it has to be us."

Engdahl said that another problem the United States faces is the need to improve old infrastructure and develop new infrastructure. "Itís going to mean a large infrastructure change. Each form of energy requires a means to store and deliver it where and when itís needed. The total cost and efficiency of the system must include both the cost of production and the cost of the infrastructure for delivery, where cost refers to both financial and energy costs."

Dr. John Engdahl

Dr. John Engdahl Donald V. Fites Chair of Engineering and Technology

Scott stressed, "The cost of doing these things is huge." According to the professor, the cost of developing one natural gas pipeline in Alaska is $50 billion. "We throw that word a billion around pretty loosely," Scott said, "and thatís one natural gas pipeline. Imagine what weíd have to spend to upgrade a natural gas system to be able to do something that can double the production of natural gas. It will not be cheap."

Another popular alternative is wind, but it can also be a costly venture, Scott stated. The high-powered lines are not cheap to install and wind usually blows best in remote places that do not have many high-powered lines. In Texas, he said, it cost an estimated $4 million per mile to install the necessary power lines.

Scott also commented that the United States has not built a new oil refinery in around 30 years. "Weíve had an interesting little race between demand for gasoline in the United States and technology. Technology has actually been stretching the capacity of these refineries a few percent each yearóyear in and year outóto make it possible for us to keep pace with this."

Getting any new energy initiative passed in Congress, however, will be a challenge, according to LaHood. "Congress does two things very well: nothing and overreacting. Itís absolutely the way it works. Itís the way the founders wanted it to work." LaHood explained that it took 10 years and a lot of hard work from many groups to get ethanol to be the renewable fuel of choice in the country.

Dr. Robert Scott

Dr. Robert Scott Department of Economics Chair

During the event, LaHood stressed that the new president would have 18 months to tackle his most important three to five issues. Although one of the "big things" in LaHoodís mind was the energy crisis, the two others are tightly interwoven with energy: the economy and the relationship of the United States with other countries.

As a result of IPLís conference, McMillan said, "The Institute is preparing a report to the National Science Foundation on the symposiumís findings and recommendations that will make its way to the 111th Congress as they look to map out a new comprehensive energy strategy for our country."