An editorial from The Tomah Journal:

As of Friday, gas was $1.68.9 a gallon in Tomah, which is down from $4.06.9 a gallon in mid-summer. That’s an enormous swing, but here’s something that didn’t change: Oil is a finite resource and will be depleted one day. Does anyone believe, barring a Great Depression, that gas will be $1.68.9 a gallon two years from now? When it comes to developing renewable energy sources, there is no time like the present.

Fortunately, president-elect Barack Obama plans to make renewable energy a major part of an economic stimulus plan he’ll present to Congress shortly after his term begins next month. It’s important for the government to take the initiative because private markets won’t. There is simply too much price fluctuation, and if we wait for the market to develop alternative fuels and alternative vehicles, it won’t happen until a more expensive crash program is required.

The government actually has a good record in research and development. It wasn’t the private sector that developed the atomic bomb, sent a man to the moon or created the infrastructure that led to the Internet. It was all done by government researchers who didn’t have to answer to stockholders who cared more about the next quarter than the next decade.

That doesn’t mean the private sector won’t have the largest role in getting alternative energy products to consumers. The private sector is far better equipped to manufacture, market and distribute profitable goods and services than the government. However, it’s the government, not the private sector, that has the luxury of funding research that doesn’t pay off immediately.

Research on alternative vehicles and renewable energy needed to power them can’t hinge on the price of gas in a given week. Perhaps the benefits won’t be felt immediately, but clean and renewable energy will benefit Americans long after next year’s stimulus package is passed.