U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced he was becoming the latest in a long line of officials headed for the exits doors as President Barack Obama begins his second term. The Nobel Prize-winning physicists touted his legacy of green-energy initiatives during his tumultuous tenure. In terms of solar power, he said the Energy Department is now close to its goal of reducing utility-scale solar energy to around $1 per watt. Batteries developed for plug-in electric vehicles, meanwhile, could lead to a revolution in the revitalized U.S. auto industry while wind power is expected to gain dominance in the nation's energy mix. Against that backdrop, however, is corresponding growth in domestic crude oil production and signs the Energy Department may have reached its zenith in terms of natural resource policies.
Chu, in a letter to Energy Department employees, touted his legacy of environmental stewardship, noting the advancements made in EV, solar power and wind during his tenure. In what may be a veiled jab at those questioning the role of human activity on climate change, the former physicist questioned those who "cherry-picked" information rather than those who sought "the unbiased truth."
Obama said Chu's resignation is a great loss to the nation. "Because of his leadership, this country is further along on the path to energy independence," he said. "It’s better positioned for the jobs and industries of the future."
Chu came into office as a champion of environmental groups worried about the effects of climate change. Obama enters his second term, however, without a legacy team at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and now the Energy Department. Chu helped transform the department from one dealing mostly with nuclear issues to one helping to administer the "all-of-the-above" energy policy for the Obama administration. The president even gave credit to Chu for overseeing projects that would ultimately led to the development of the cap that eventually plugged the leaking Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
But Chu's record isn't spot free. A $535 million loan guarantee for now-bankrupt solar panel company Solyndra ultimately made its way into any discussion on the Nobel Prize laureate's efforts to advance solar power in the United States. Republican critics of Obama's green energy agenda pounced on that misstep. While Solyndra's federal boost was meant to help the U.S. solar industry compete against China, The Institute for Energy Research, a darling of Republican energy hawks, complained that Chu's tenure "clearly" gave U.S. competitors an edge.
Under Chu's leadership, wind and solar power have nearly doubled at the same that gas-price wary commuters used more using battery-powered vehicles to get to work. At the same time, however, the United States has emerged as a global leader in oil and natural gas production, thanks in part to new technologies used to get reserves from underground shale formations. Chu, in his resignation letter, lauded long-time Obama supporter and former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire. The secretary said he's worked closely with Gregoire on nuclear waste issues during the past few months of his tenure, giving special appreciation to her "trust and support." The hat-tip not only gives and indication of the presumptive second-term energy secretary, but may signal a retreat back to the energy department's roots.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com