Energy and Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’

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Elisa WoodBy Elisa Wood
March 7, 2013


Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ is the latest ‘Downton Abbey.’ Or for us older folks, it is the latest who-shot-JR Ewing – a television series that lots of people are talking about.

A story of Congressional intrigue, the 13-part series has caught the attention of not only the viewing public, but also Washington insiders, who are having a good time debating what’s real and what’s downright silly in House of Cards. For those who haven’t seen it, the series is about a power grab by fictional House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey). He wants to be vice president, and he lies, maneuvers and kills his way to the position.

So what’s real? The show gets the little details right: the hand sanitizers in the Capitol and use of insider acronyms. On the other hand, Zoe Barnes, the jean-jacketed sleep-your-way to the top journalist, is a cartoonish figure.

The energy industry also plays a big part in the series.  And again, the show gets the details right. For example, it acknowledges the rise of natural gas as an economic force, and the push for nuclear power as a low-carbon source of electricity.

But beyond that, well, poor Underwood doesn’t have a clue. In the season finale, he presses the natural gas company Sancorp to launch a hostile takeover of Tusk, a company that owns nuclear plants. And he wants this accomplished by Friday – a few days away – all to suit his political purposes. It’s a relief to hear the Sancorp lobbyist say, albeit without force, something like, “But there are shareholders to consider.”

The whole takeover scenario is hokey. Tusk instead takes over Sancorp to thumb its nose at Underwood. And if I remember correctly, it all does happen by Friday.

Still, everyone deserves a second chance. Even the bumbling and evil Congressman Underwood. That second chance comes with the yet-to-be-released next episode. So here I advise  our fictional majority whip on how he should proceed in the next season.

Congressman Underwood, you say you want the nuclear and natural gas folks off your back and you need leverage over them. So next season push energy efficiency. Tell your staff that energy efficiency is the next big thing; in fact it has been for awhile (Zoe Barnes just failed to report it). Get Congress to pass, and the fictional President to sign, a major energy bill that focuses on appliance standards, labeling, cogeneration, Energy Star, and smart grid. By Friday.

Readers and ‘House of Card’ fans, please comment. What did you think of the portrayal of the energy industry in the series?

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work can be found at

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


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