'All of the above' is not an energy plan with a goal

Wednesday’s contributors' blog by Charles McConnell in The Hill was titled “Energy solution must be an 'all of the above' strategy.”  

McConnell states in his first sentence, “The two cornerstones of our global society that are fundamental to our lives today and for our future are 1) the affordability and security of our energy and 2) environmental responsibility.”

The problem I have is that his two cornerstones (which are actually three: affordability, security and environmental responsibility) are not in balance in an “all of the above” strategy.

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"All of the above" is not a strategy.  It is putting immediate perceived cost (affordability) above all else, actually at the expense of security and environmental responsibility.

"All of the above" is not a strategy because it is not tied to specific goals.  For example, Colorado has a renewable portfolio standard of 30 percent renewables by 2020.  With a set goal, an energy plan can be reverse engineered, so the actions taken today meet the future objectives.  "All of the above" has no objectives that put affordability, security and environmental responsibility in balance.

My argument is that we are grasping at the lowest cost “of the moment.”

So, McConnell failed to mention that low-cost fossil fuels should be considered only after we have exhausted the clean energy resources we’re already tapping into -- like wind and solar.

As it stands, the price of clean energy has fallen markedly over the last decade and is now cheaper than many of the traditional fossil fuel sources that powered our 19th and 20th century endeavors. But it’s now the 21st century.

We’re seeing unprecedented extreme weather and severe health effects as a result of the decades of unchecked carbon pollution that has led to the climate disruption we know all too well. From ravaging wildfires to severe drought, climate disruption is happening in our backyards and across the country. If we continue to use dirty fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas as Mr. McConnell suggests, do we have environmental responsibility in balance with affordability and security?

The truth is, the solution to global energy poverty is not fossil fuels and the centralized grid - it is distributed clean energy. The International Energy Agency’s own analysis shows that the only way to achieve universal energy access for all 1.2 billion people currently lacking it is to increase investment in these resources - not fossil fuels. We're already seeing a booming market for off-grid solar services in countries like Bangladesh that are putting power in the hands of the poor today - something coal and other fossil fuels have failed to do.

Instead of relying on dirty, dangerous coal projects to power people off the grid, clean energy is empowering healthier, brighter lives by powering lights, mobile phone chargers, TVs and even larger appliances like refrigerators. By tapping innovative business and financial models we can dramatically expand this market and finally put an end to energy poverty. But only if we end the charade that fossil fuels will power the energy poor.

That's why Mr. McConnell’s blog is not only wrong - it's dangerous. The fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidized, its driving climate disruption, and its failing the energy poor. It is environmentally irresponsible – and the true cost has been masked.

It's time we broke with business as usual and doubled down on the clean energy solutions that are solving our environmental and development challenges.  And it is important to do so with a stated goal.  "All of the above" is not an energy plan that will meet the trifecta of affordability, security and protection of our environment for generations to come.

Shah, a solar power entrepreneur, is the founder of SunEdison and first CEO of Carbon War Room.