Google Energy Guru Pushes Congress to Insulate America

By Andrew C. Revkin

David M. Herszenhorn, who covers Congress, sent me a note from 
Washington today on an interesting hearing held to explore the 
role of efficiency in cutting Americans??? expensive energy 

Here???s David???s report:

WASHINGTON -??? Dan Reicher, Google???s guru of all things related 
to energy and the environment, came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday 
with some ideas on how to keep Earth from overheating and poor 
families from freezing this winter in the face of sky-high prices 
for heating oil.

A central proposal, laid out in testimony before the Joint 
Economic Committee, was a national program aimed at cutting heat 
and electricity bills in 10 million low-income homes over a 
decade. The existing federal ???weatherization??? program saw its 
Energy Department budget eliminated recently. The hearing was 
called ???Efficiency: The Hidden Secret to Solving Our Energy 

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and chairman of 
the joint committee, said he planned to include the weatherization 
proposal in a bill later this year. ???I am very interested in the 
low-income home weatherization program,??? he said. ???And I???m 
going to put in some legislation to move it up.???

Over in the main part of the Capitol, lawmakers have been locked 
in a bitter stalemate over energy policy, with Republicans pushing 
for increased oil exploration, including expanded offshore 
drilling. Democrats, meanwhile, insist that drilling should be 
limited to existing leases on federal lands. Both sides say 
efforts to produce energy from renewable sources should be vastly 
increased, but they disagree on how to do so.

Mr. Reicher offered an array of ideas to a mostly receptive panel 
of lawmakers. In addition to weatherizing 10 million homes for 
low-income Americans, which he said would cost about $2 billion 
annually, he also said Congress should establish a mechanism 
called the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard that would set 
efficiency resource targets for electricity and gas suppliers over 
a given period of time.

He also called for a national ???renewable portfolio standard??? 
to increase the amount of electricity produced by sources other 
than fossil fuels. Some two dozen states have a hodgepodge of such 
requirements now for their utilities. This issue has divided 
Congress deeply in recent years. Other proposals included a 
greater focus on boosting fuel efficiency, the improvement of 
electric cars and increased tax incentives for the construction of 
energy-efficient buildings.

Perhaps Mr. Reicher???s most intriguing comment, though, was his 
observation on the role that information technology will play in 
helping solve the nation???s energy problems. ???The increasing 
interplay between energy hardware and information software ??? and 
the corresponding rise of the Internet and the connectivity it 
brings ??? adds to the potential to make and to use energy more 
productively,??? Mr. Reicher said. ???From smart meters and smart 
appliances to smart homes and a smart grid, we are poised to 
significantly advance our ability to monitor and manage 

Presumably Google foresees a role in helping consumers or 
companies do this. It???s already aggressively pursuing 
investments in what it calls ???Renewable Energy Cheaper than 

Mr. Reicher???s unit at Google (which straddles its for-profit 
side and its dot-org grant-making arm) has been capitalized with 
more than $1 billion in the company???s stock to address the 
issues of climate change, energy, global poverty and global 

Kyle J. Fricker
Chemical Engineering
University of Florida