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Renewable Accounts: Energy Independence

We still do not produce all of the energy that we consume.

By David Ripplinger, Bioproducts and Bioenergy Economist and Assistant Professor

NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to discuss renewable energy with a group from Moldova at the Carrington Research Extension Center. While I quickly drafted notes for my presentation, I also had to do some research on Moldova.

Moldova is a country of 3.5 million people situated between Romania and the Ukraine. About the size of Maryland, Moldova is the poorest nation in Europe. Since declaring its independence from Russia, it’s struggled to grow its economy.

Many North Dakotans have an ancestral tie to the region. My paternal ancestors lived near Odessa, which is just 30 miles from modern-day Moldova. They were there at the invitation of Catherine the Great and stayed for about 100 years before packing their bags for Wells County. I can imagine an 18th century Ripplinger coming home to brag to his German wife that the Empress of Russia wanted him specifically to come and farm near the Black Sea!

The Moldovan delegation came to North Dakota to learn about ways they could develop energy. The motivation was obvious. Moldova imports all of its oil, gas and coal. Most of the imports come from Russia. I can’t think of a better example of energy insecurity; that is, the relative insecurity of a nation resulting from its lack of access to energy resources. Complete reliance on trading partners is of concern even in good times. Moldova’s situation is more trying because Russia recently has toyed with the spigot that supplies energy to Europe.

Fortunately, things are much better in the U.S. We have abundant and relatively well-utilized domestic energy resources. We have economic and military might to ensure access to imported energy. Of course, that does not mean that we are immune to global events as evidenced by the crisis in Syria. While we might not like the high prices we pay for many types of energy and change our behavior because of it, we typically don’t have to worry about energy being available.

It’s important to remember that the U.S. is not energy independent, even with the development of unconventional oil and gas reserves, such as the Bakken, or increased production of renewable energy. In other words, we still do not produce all of the energy that we consume.

Some Americans think energy independence should be a national goal as it was under the Nixon administration. Up until the domestic production boom, this was unrealistic because the cost of producing a unit of energy domestically far exceeded the cost of importing it.

Energy independence in our lifetimes is plausible. The International Energy Agency, which was established following the 1973 oil crisis to help avoid energy supply disruptions, announced about a year ago that it expects the U.S. to be energy independent by 2030. Energy independence would put us in nearly the exact opposite situation that the people of Moldova face today.

My quick research on Moldova didn’t change my presentation greatly, but it certainly gave me more appreciation for the issue of energy security and another reason to be thankful my ancestors accepted the offer of free land in the Dakotas and became Americans.

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Sept. 17, 2013

Source:David Ripplinger, (701) 231-5265, david.ripplinger@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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