This energetic message delivered loud and clear

The same message comes through loud and clear every year at the Energy Expo & Forum in Grand Junction. Energy demand is expected to continue its steep upward climb in the United States and rapidly developing economies around the world. Not counting oil, natural resources are available to keep pace with demand. But regulations and policies hinder the ability of the energy industry to produce more power and, in the process, jeopardize U.S. security.

Given the energy savvy crowds from Western Colorado that attend the expo and forum, the message is something akin to preaching to the choir. If only those seats at Two Rivers Convention Center could be filled with members of Congress.

What does rivet the attention of our lawmakers in Washington are rising oil and gasoline prices, especially now that oil prices have passed the $100 milestone and gasoline prices at the pump are headed back into $4-a-gallon territory. Christopher Guith, vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy, aptly put it this way at the expo and forum: “When oil and gasoline spikes, things can happen. Mountains can move.”

Tapping the U.S. strategic oil reserve doesn’t exactly constitute such peak performance, offering instead a short-sighted solution. Given U.S. consumption, the reserve only offers about 38 days of supply. Then what? The reserve is meant for real, short-term emergencies like Hurricane Katrina, not the prospect of a protracted civil war in Libya, a country that produces less than 2 percent of the daily world oil supply.

What is needed is an unblinking long-term vision for meeting the ongoing energy needs of the United States. Moreover, that vision must recognize reality. All forms of energy — conventional and renewable alike — are needed to meet increased demand. But for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels will continue to generate the bulk of power.

Coal, for example, currently accounts for about 40 percent of electrical generation in the U.S. Now, guess what that proportion likely will be in 2035.

The answer: about 40 percent.

Consequently, energy policy should promote the development of geothermal, solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Who knows what important technological advances await discovery? But at the same time, energy policy also should foster a predictable regulatory environment that allows for the domestic production and continued use of coal, natural gas and oil until other substantial energy sources are available.

At the same time, consumers who expect power literally at the flip of a switch must realize where that power comes from. And it’s not those sockets in the wall. Rather, it’s from energy resource development and, subsequently, power plants and other energy production facilities. As energy demand increases, more energy development and facilities will be needed — maybe not in the backyard, but likely close by. By one estimate, about 400 energy projects in the U.S. have been delayed or scuttled because of local opposition. Opposition simply for the sake of opposition is clearly counterproductive.

The message about energy is as loud and clear as it is pressing. As oil and gasoline prices move higher, here’s hoping lawmakers and the populace are listening.