Point Reyes Light - February 22, 2001

Dubya wins Nobel Prize

By John Hulls

Point Reyes Station

Last in a series on the state's energy crisis

The energy systems mentioned in this imagined interview already exist and the statistics are true. The Japanese and German projects, the WorldWatch/British Petroleum/Enron discussions and any events mentioned as happening before 2001 have, in fact, happened. The rest is a happy daydream.

It’s 2009, and former President George W. Bush has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create a sustainable energy future for the entire world. As he acknowledged in his acceptance speech in Stockholm, West Marin and other small communities on the Northern California coast first inspired his work, and he was kind enough to grant The Point Reyes Light an interview.

Point Reyes Light: Mr. President, congratulations on your Nobel Prize. Some of our readers may not be familiar with all of the battles following the California energy crisis of '01. Perhaps you could tell us what got you started?

President Bush: Yeah, well someone sent my wife a copy of your paper and she made me read the article about how the Inverness Pee You Dee and all your other little utility districts got together. Got the Danish government to fund installations to provide a couple of megawatts of windpower, got that investment banker and the fuel cell manufacturers to fund their stuff. I really like that one gizmo that does hydrogen and stores it when there's extra wind and runs the other way and does 'lectricity when there's no wind. And all those small business and home power cells and photovoltaics. Good stuff.

Y’all out there in West Marin kinda invented the "virtual utility" with all the inverters' microprocessors talking to each other over the Internet to figure out the most economical way to deliver power to everyone on your system. I guess now the system even "learns" all the customers' demands as well as figuring out when to sell your surplus back to the state grid.

‘Compassionate Conservation’

PRL: That's right, Mr. President. But how did learning that get you started on your "Energy Independence through Compassionate Conservation" program?

Bush: Well, that happened when I had that huge fight with Cheney after that godawful trip to Munich for the European conference on the missile defense stuff. As you know, we had to dump all that "Star Wars" stuff and that freed up a bunch of money to spend.

And the Europeans had a point. Saudi Arabia's got 25 percent of the world's oil, and we've got 25 percent of the world's need for oil. And some tinpot like Saddam doesn't have to have missiles to reach the USA. All he's got to do is plop a couple of dirty nukes on the Saudi oil field with a camel or whatever and the US economy is screwed but good, and then his Iraqi oil is now worth ten times as much that's why my dad whupped him in the first place and...

PRL: – but Mr. President, what we'd really like to know is exactly what happened in Munich that tipped the balance?

Bush: Well, the Germans picked us up at the airport in one of those BMW 730 limousines, the ones that can burn either hydrogen or gasoline. They had those hydrogen buses running all over and the guy from BMW was real proud of 'em and told me all about it and how the Barbarian [sic...Bavarian] government and German banks had put millions into the program 'cause they all felt hydrogen was the way to go as the oil was running out ... Told me that I should talk to Tom Oates, that board guy from Merrill Lynch. Guess they're putting millions into investments in new hydrogen technology.

But when I talked to Cheney about this, he told me not to worry about it, that it was just a bunch of nuts and eco-freaks and a little drilling off the California coast and in Alaska would hold things till I was out of office. And that's when I got mad. I told him I really liked that BMW and those people working on alternate energy couldn't be as stupid as he said. If half of what the Germans said was true, oil would be worth its weight in gold by the time I had grandkids and that would really screw things up. Kinda like in Road Warrior, but, you know, without Milt Gibson.

Solar systems

PRL: So it was the trip to Munich that sold you on the relationship between converting to sustainable energy and reducing international tension?

Bush: Yeah, right. It all kinda fell into place after I told Cheney not to forget who was President and he should butt out of energy stuff since he had a conflict of interest with all his oil business – that $20-million pension or $200 million or whatever he’s getting.

Then we talked to some people who were really doing some stuff, like you folks in West Marin. They told me that there were even people in government who already wanted to do something about sustainable energy. Like the State Parking Lot PV program that started out at the State fairgrounds in Sacramento.

PRL: That's interesting. The Germans' PV program was what convinced our state legislature that we should go with the program. California has an area of 159,000 square miles. Germany measures a similar 138,000 square miles, but even though they have a lot less sun than California, the country has put 3,000 megawatts of distributed solar power online. The funny thing was, the Germans said they got the idea from Sacramento Municipal Utilities district and their Solar Roof program. But what was the toughest thing in getting the program moving?

Bush: Yeah, and my wife Laura tells me that Japan is about the same area as California and their first national PV program put 7,800 megawatts on rooftops. Cost quite a bit more at first, but the system requires no fuel, no moving parts and it's still going strong after 25 years...

Right ... the problem. Well the thing was to convince all the business folks that this was going to be "the new new thing." If they poured half the money they put in the internet, it would be a no-brainer. So I talked to that guy at WorldWatch, Lester Brown, and I was really surprised ... He said I should talk to the President of British Petroleum and Ken Lay, you know, that Enron guy who gave so much money to the campaign ... So Lester set up a meeting.

Hydrogen economy

PRL: There were rumors of such a meeting. Can you tell us what really went on?

Bush: Well, I gotta tell you, it really blew me away. I didn't realize that these guys even talked to each other, let alone that they were really all on the same page.

Here's the thing. They said that if each person in China used the same amount of energy as each American does, China alone would use up more than the entire world's daily oil output by dinnertime.

That just made it plain that the growing Chinese economy wasn't going to work unless they went to a solar/wind/hydrogen-based system kinda like what the Germans were doing in Munich. And the BP guy and the Enron guy said they were already looking at how they could adapt to a hydrogen economy. Lay had already bought a couple of Texas wind companies – we got lots of wind in Texas.

They all agreed it would take about $20 billion dollars to build the infrastructure to really start a sustainable energy supply in the US. They said that no private company could pioneer the change, but as soon as the government made it possible, they'd be there. They said it could be done the same way the government phased out leaded gasoline, with credits and regulations that worked so well the press never even covered it and the oil industry only kicked and screamed for a little bit. I told them what you're telling me is it's kinda like business is the locomotive of the economy, but the government's got to lay down the tracks so everyone can ride the train. They agreed.

PRL: You used that line a lot in your '04 campaign.

Bush: Yeah, I was really proud of that one. But I came up with it back in '01 and things moved really fast. After all the tax-cut hassles, I got everyone to see that we could pay for this whole thing with less than two percent of the $1.6 trillion tax cut , and that we could have an even bigger tax cut in a few years if we stopped having to import so much oil ...

Hydrogen Hawaii

PRL: So that's when you took a look back at Public Law 101-566, which your dad actually signed way back in 1990?

Bush: Yeah, on that deal, the late Hawaiian Senator Matsunaga got a few million bucks to study hydrogen fuels in Hawaii. But without any real money behind it, it didn't go anywhere. But I called in their Congresswoman Mina Morita and we dumped a couple of billion into her Hydrogen Hawaii program which she was trying to get going because they were getting killed on imported oil costs. Worked real well, and I don't think there's a gasoline car on the islands now, and all the hydrogen comes from the trade winds and geothermal from the volcanoes ... set specific goals for private industry to protect the public and stood back. It was a real free-for-all, but it worked.

Then we set up that program with wind from North and South Dakota and the hydrogen pipeline and ran it to Bonneville and Western Power [power plants] so the government would have enough power capability to keep everyone honest, the same way federal power from the Bonneville and Hoover dams kept energy costs in the western states stable for over 50 years....

PRL: Those programs are a huge success. But what do you think got your program to take off internationally?

Bush: Well I knew if I got China involved, the market would be so big it would just keep growing. Plus, I had to get re-elected, and putting all the details together ... not my deal. And that's when I got Al Gore in to set things up with the Chinese. Surprised the heck out of everybody and put together the damndest centrist coalition you've ever seen.

Al may not be the kind of guy I'd normally have a brew with, but you've got to like the way he sits down and works on the details. Must have a cast iron butt. So he set up the Organization of Hydrogen Exporting Countries ... look, I know it's a bad joke on OPEC, but it seemed cute at the time ... set it up so that private industry could make a lot of money financing and building power plants, but couldn't use them to bleed an economy.

If the US didn't like OPEC ripping us off because they owned our power supply, other countries wouldn't be any happier if we owned theirs. And it all worked. Now over 70 percent of the world has distributed renewable power, no greenhouse gases and no reason to fight over energy. You'll have to ask Al for the rest of the details but he's pretty busy with that last 30 percent.

Bush the unpredictable

PRL: You've certainly had an unpredictable presidency. Why did you ever start out by being considered, well ... not too bright?

Bush: Well, funny you should ask. A couple of times during the first campaign, the press started to realize that I couldn't be a complete idiot and fly a supersonic F102. And then when that one magazine did an article on my environmentally friendly house out at the ranch, I thought I was totally screwed. You don't think my dad's oil pals would have got me the job if they thought I actually had – what did dad call it? – a vision thing?

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