An economist, an engineer, and a physicist are marooned on a deserted island. One day they find a can of food washed up on the beach and contrive to open it. The engineer said: "let's hammer the can open between these rocks". The physicist said: "that's pretty crude. We can just use the force of gravity by dropping a rock on the can from that tall tree over there". The economist is somewhat disgusted at these deliberations, and says: "I've got a much more elegant solution. All we have to do is assume a can-opener."In an op-ed appearing in the August 31 Washington Post, David A. Fahrenthold discusses the practical realities glossed over in former vice president Al Gore's call for converting to "clean electricity" in 10 years. Central to Mr. Fahrenthold's piece is the recognition that the nation's electrical infrastructure represents the cumulative investment of trillions of dollars. Replacing this massive amount of capital assets in an orderly, affordable (i.e., responsible) manner will take time - more than Mr. Gore's impressive-sounding, but unrealistic 10-year deadline.
Electricity providers are compelled by their state public utility commissions to manage capital assets responsibly. "Responsibly" means shepherding those assets to ensure that in the long term a fitting balance is maintained among all the competing interests, including costs to rate payers, environmental impacts, return to shareholders, and so forth. This requires careful analysis and long range planning. It isn't done with sound bites or easy assumptions.