Oct. 4, 2010

Conservation, mobilization are vital for energy security

Moving toward energy security and mitigating climate change will require a broad, sustained commitment on all levels of U.S. society, according to alumni panelists from academia and industry who discussed the issue Oct. 1 in Kennedy Hall's Call Alumni Auditorium.

And while every option for power generation -- including wind, solar and nuclear power -- should be considered, panelist John Dyson '65 emphasized that some of the biggest gains could come from strategies like giving property owners incentives to make homes and buildings more energy efficient.

The discussion, "Energy Security and a Sustainable Environment," was part of Cornell's celebration around the recent naming gift that created the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Moderator William Schulze, the Kenneth L. Robinson Professor of Agricultural Economics and Public Policy, noted that reducing dependence on foreign energy sources has been a goal for decades. But "you all know how much progress we've made in terms of energy security so far: almost none."

Still, Schulze said, the Supreme Court's recent ruling that carbon dioxide is a "dangerous pollutant" is likely to push Congress to pass new energy legislation after the midterm elections.

New technologies are being developed, added panelist Daniel Goldman '87, executive vice president and CFO for GreatPoint Energy Inc.; but few are making the jump to commercial production. The solution, said Bernard Neenan '70, Ph.D. '81, technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute, lies in mobilizing government, industry, grassroots groups and individuals toward a shared goal. "A large sea change has to happen," Neenan said. "And we have to sustain our will to solve the problem."

Dyson, chairman of Millbrook Capital Management Inc. and chair of the New York Power Authority from 1979 to 1985, said improving energy efficiency in buildings and vehicles is key.

"Conservation is the very best idea of all," Dyson said. He cited so-called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bonds as a win-win solution that would allow property owners to save energy, reduce carbon emissions and create jobs in green construction.

The bonds would allow property owners to borrow money to improve their homes' energy efficiency, then repay the loan over time through annual property tax surcharges. Currently PACE bonds are not guaranteed by lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he said, making them unavailable to most homeowners.

Dyson closed by calling on the lenders to change their policy and on the public to bring the issue to their legislators' attention. "PACE bonds are indispensable," he said. "This is a really simple answer."

The discussion was followed by a second panel, "Cornell and the Developing World: Commercial, Humanitarian and Scientific Opportunities," which focused on how business, public-sector and not-for-profit organizations are responding to evolving commercial, humanitarian and scientific opportunities in developing countries.

Christopher Barrett, the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management, moderated the second panel. Speakers were Devry Boughner, M.S. '99, director of international business relations for Cargill Inc.; Kathryn Kiplinger '79, M.P.S. '86, co-head of corporate banking for Scotia Capital; Kevin Malchoff '74, MBA '75, president of International Business Group, Rich Products Corp.; John Mellor '50, M.S. '51, Ph.D. '54, president of John Mellor Associates Inc.; and Emmy Simmons, M.S. '68, independent consultant and retired assistant administrator for economic growth, agriculture and trade at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Energy industry consultant Theresa Flaim, M.S. '74, P.D. '77, was scheduled to speak on the first panel but was unable to make it at the last minute.

In June, President David Skorton announced a $25 million gift from the Dyson family to establish the school in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Formerly the Department of Applied Economics and Management, the school is named for Dyson's father to recognize his contributions to American business.