The Future of U.S. Energy: Business and Policy Perspectives
April 01, 2015
On March 31st, the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative, in conjunction with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, hosted an event entitled “The Future of U.S. Energy: Business and Policy Perspectives.” This very lively discussion featured David Crane, President and CEO of NRG Energy, and Benjamin Nussdorf, Senior Regulatory Advisor for the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, speaking on topics ranging from the current state of the energy sector, the trajectory of the power industry, and the role of private companies and government regulators at all levels in combatting climate change.
The talk with Mr. Crane (center) and Mr. Nussdorf (right) was moderated by Professor Mark Alan Hughes, Faculty Director, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy (left).
Mr. Crane is one of the leading voices in the power industry on the topic of climate change and the need for curbing carbon emissions, and he was one of the first U.S. power industry CEOs to publicly call for mandatory climate change measures. He leads NRG’s efforts in the transition to a clean energy economy through repowering and retrofitting older coal plants, developing carbon capture technology, selling renewable and smart energy retail solutions and building the nation’s largest privately funded network of electric vehicle fast-charging stations. During the talk, he compared the power industry of 2015 to the telecom industry of the early 1990’s, in that the companies that ultimately went out of business were the ones who failed both to adopt new technologies (i.e. cellular) and to consolidate older technology and infrastructure. He explained NRG’s diversified energy portfolio as the clear solution to avoiding this exact fate.
Mr. Nussdorf, prior to joining DOE, was a Senior Policy Analyst at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. There he received the Bureau’s Stewardship Award, for outstanding work and service in connection to the Bureau of Land Management Hydraulic Fracturing Rulemaking. He also has served in multiple roles within the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Natural Resources Revenue, and was a Presidential Management Fellow in the Minerals Management Service. At the event, he acknowledged the need for regulators to maintain good relationships with the private sector, which sets best practices across industries, and that this is especially true where fracking is concerned. Since about 90% of land-based oil wells in the U.S. are fracked and federal regulations overseeing the production of natural gas are over 25 years old, it’s important for new regulations at any level – municipal, state, and federal – to reflect and respond to the new energy environment of the country.
Both participants agreed that over-reliance upon natural gas, which still has half the emissions of coal, must not be fostered. In order to get to a 90% reduction in emissions by 2050, as called for by the federal government, the U.S. requires a diversity of renewables and that natural gas should be simply a bridge towards a greener energy-based country. In order for this to occur, regulations need to accommodate the adoption of new technologies, which is sometimes not the case. For example, in some municipalities across the country, it takes 150 days, on average, to receive permission to install solar panels on a home. Burdens like this should be eased if mainstream adoption of new, greener energy technology is to be achieved.
Penn Wharton PPI was honored to host Mr. Crane and Mr. Nussdorf on campus. For more information about fracking and oversight, see our Issue Brief “Why Fracking Won’t Bring Back the Factories (Yet).”