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American power failure: no quick fix

Senior Producer Michael Moran introduces’s new series, “Eye on Energy,” an effort to explain where American energy policy went wrong and the challenges and options it faces for the future.
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In California, where average energy prices have risen more than 100 percent, the term “endless summer” has taken on new meaning. In Las Vegas, sweltering residents have endured blackouts because a power grid designed for the 1980s can’t meet demand. Across the United States, the average price of a gallon of gas spiked at $1.71 before falling — this following a winter that saw gas heating bills more than double. A nation accustomed to the cheapest energy on the planet is not happy. But what is really going on?

Amid the outrage and frustration, an underlying question persists: Are America’s energy woes the creation of poor planning and misplaced environmentalism, or is big business and its allies in Washington taking advantage of the American consumer?

There is no simple answer. But the stakes are high for the United States, the largest gross and per capita consumer of energy in the world. To power America’s industries, homes and luxuries, the U.S. consumes more than 25 percent of the world’s oil and coal, and more than 27 percent of its natural gas. Yet Americans make up barely 5 percent of the world’s population.

“Eye on Energy,” a special series by, aims to examine some of these issues in reports on the politicians and regulators who make policy and the companies and lobbyists who influence them. It will also look at the battle between developers and conservationists, and the breakthrough technologies being tested worldwide that could provide an answer to America’s energy dilemma.

One report will examine the strong link between the energy industry’s political campaign contributions and the votes of politicians in Congress.

A report from California will look at how the state’s electrical troubles have translated into layoffs at local factories. From the American West, we will detail hard facts on how conservation programs in some states have cut projected energy demand enormously, and how some alternative energy sources, including wind and geothermal power, are producing a significant share of the total energy demand in some regions. And we’ll revisit Three Mile Island, the site of America’s most notorious nuclear accident, to examine whether the long winter for the troubled nuclear power industry is finally at an end.

We’ve also traveled to Europe, where we report on how nations there have used tax policy and industry standards to make energy efficiency a crucial factor in industrial design. In Germany, we’ll see how diesel engines now in mainstream production are getting more than 100 miles per gallon. And we’ll take a fresh look at OPEC, the storied and once feared oil cartel, and ask what sway the group continues to hold over America’s energy future.

“Eye on Energy” will present all of this, plus daily news on the energy situation and interactive features that delve into the nuts and bolts of the energy infrastructure, the environmental costs and benefits, and the political and financial realities behind them.