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Energy Use = Land Use

The Envision Lehigh Valley meeting encouraged me to think of energy policy in terms of land use.

Last Wednesday, several hundred people gathered at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem to discuss the future of the Lehigh Valley. When we broke into small groups, some of us brainstormed ways to make the Valley more energy efficient. Several different ideas were suggested including a comprehensive energy plan, the use of LED lights, and cooperative energy designs. However, one suggestion stood out as the obvious starting place for any energy policy: efficient use of land.

The energy problem in this country is inherently tied up with the way that we utilize land. If you stop to think about your major energy expenditures, it becomes obvious that the main culprits are heating and cooling costs for homes, the cost of running appliances, and gasoline for cars (largely commuting from suburban homes to jobs). By government estimates, these uses consume some eighty percent of all energy used in America.

The easiest way to curb this energy waste is to make our land policy more efficient. That means encouraging people to live and work in the same location and increasing housing density. If the Valley is projected to add some 140,000 more people over the next few decades, then we must try to add these people to the urban cores rather than cornfields if we want to significantly reduce energy waste. Incidentally, many of the newcomers will be a younger demographic who want a denser urban lifestyle anyway.

Energy use and land use go hand in hand and we must be conscious of the fact that the way we develop land dramatically influences how much energy we consume. Technological solutions like LEDs and solar panels are nice band-aids, but the energy savings of one family choosing to live in an efficient downtown apartment compared to the average suburban home is the equivalent of several hundred telephone-pole mounted solar panels. As with most things in life, the easiest solution to the energy problem is probably the best, because increased middle-class density in core cities has spill-over benefits like an increased city tax base, better inner city schools, reduced farmland development, less strain on transportation systems, and increased commercial vitality.

In short, I would encourage all of us to consider the energy problem as a problem of low housing density and develop policy from that perspective. The benefits could be immense.

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Jim Siverly July 17, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Ron, maybe a wider apology is in order. “Liberalism is a Mental Disease” is a book title and the book’s author has no connection to FNC. I found that poster’s opinion heartfelt and not so much rhetorical. Personally, I consider the phrase “Fox News talking points” oxymoronic. Can you provide an example of a Fox News talking point?
Jim Siverly July 17, 2012 at 02:17 PM
I don’t consider heating and cooling my home a waste of energy. The waste is that we buy foreign oil instead of harvesting that within our territorial boundaries. The waste is government subsidizing costly alternative energies. The waste is government etc. The American Dream isn’t to live in a crowded city. For some maybe, but I prefer a landscape with deer running through my backyard.
Ron Beitler July 17, 2012 at 04:12 PM
I'm very familiar with Michael Savage and his special brand of over the top sensationalism for ratings. "This was probably a bunch of liberal democrats, wasting their time, but feeling really good about themselves." - exhibit A There are many Republicans like myself who find some (not all) FNC rhetoric (particularly the partisan opinion) insulting. Mainly the blanket fiercely partisan, anti-regulatory views of the extreme element of the party that commandeers the message.. (this sort of blind partisanship is equally dangerous on the far right and the far left)
Ron Beitler July 17, 2012 at 04:14 PM
As someone whose home sits on a stream and frequently has deer running across the back field I agree 100%. My issue is the government subsidizing the 'burbs' to the detriment of the core. The Government can use policy to encourage, but it shouldnt pick the winners and losers.
Jim Siverly July 17, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Ron, exhibit A is not an FNC talking point. It may be rhetoric, but a fair question is why liberals, democrats or anybody wastes/spends time “encouraging” (is a penalty or a tax?) other people’s behavior? What do you mean by FNC rhetoric? Somebody who appeared on the network said something that offended you? Oh my. Without fiercely partisan rhetoric, would our republic have survived this long? I’m glad you are expressing your views, so that I can present opposing views: The regulatory actions of the EPA are stifling energy production crucial to our economic recovery. I wish the anti-regulatory elements of the GOP were commandeering that message.

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