A Sensible Energy Alternative

In 12-plus years of writing stories, commentaries, press releases and more for the Chamber and BizVoice magazine after 13 years in the newspaper business (I started very, very young), I feel I have a pretty good understanding of a number of topics. I’m not sure, however, that energy/environmental issues always fall into that category.

It usually takes a good session with Chamber expert Vince Griffin to enhance my knowledge and understanding. But Vince is off on a well-earned vacation so I’ll have to go this one alone in saying that legislation introduced in Congress on Wednesday seems to have, in technical terms, a whole heck of a lot of common sense. And you seemingly can’t often say that today.

The authors are senators John (Jay) Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio). Opinions may vary on the performances of one or both, but they want to provide incentives for carbon capture and storage. Their states, like Indiana, generate the vast majority of their electricity from coal. It’s a different approach from the controversial cap and trade or other versions of reducing carbon emissions.

More on that in a minute. The senators added a provision related to a renewable electricy standard that is currently part of a separate bill. Instead of a mandate on the amount of power that comes from simply renewable energy, they want to add clean coal and nuclear power to that mix. Again, that simply makes sense in so many ways.

Details below courtesy of CongressDaily:

"If you really want to do something significant about reducing greenhouse gas emissions … this one piece of legislation would do more than perhaps anything else," Voinovich said. "This bill by itself has merit to getting it done this year."

Rockefeller said renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal power cannot be developed quickly enough to replace coal anytime soon, so Congress should invest in technology that makes coal clean.

"We’re going to offer [the bill], and I think it’s going to change the face of this debate," Rockefeller said. "A lot of our colleagues won’t face up to the fact that [renewable energy] won’t make up the difference."

The $20 billion in federal money in their bill would go toward developing large-scale pilot projects of carbon capture and sequestration, in which carbon emissions are captured and stored underground or elsewhere instead of going into the atmosphere. The bill establishes a regulatory framework to monitor and govern "long-term geological storage" of carbon, Voinovich said. It also funds additional programs through loan guarantees and new tax credits for companies that are early adopters of the technology.

The bill would be funded by a fee assessed to utilities in both the commercial and industry sector. Consumers would see an increase of roughly $10 a year, both senators said. The fees would total about $2 billion a year, which is how the bill would pay for the $20 billion.

GOP Senators Tout Their Own Energy Plan

If you have been "capped and traded" to exhaustion by the climate change and energy proposal pushed by Democrat leaders and President Obama, there is another alternative to consider. While the Senate will debate cap and trade (or the national energy tax as termed by some) in the fall, the 40 Republicans in that chamber appear united in their own proposal.

Among the highlights:

  • Building 100 nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. Nearly all of the current 104 units came about in a similar time frame before the brakes were put on nuclear development 30 years ago
  • Options for states to drill for oil and natural gas off their coasts. States would get a guaranteed share of production revenue
  • Research and development for advanced batteries would help reach the goal of 50% of all cars and trucks being electric-powered within 20 years
  • Projects to spur research for carbon capture and storage, solar power, safely recycling nuclear waste, greener buildings and creating energy from fusion

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander says the nuclear expansion will be the centerpiece of the plan. Senators are expected to tout the message "on the road in August" during recess, as well as utilize it (whether successful or not in the Senate) to try and gain seats in the 2010 congressional election.

Alexander says the senators’ plan seeks to control climate change "without the taxes and mandates" in the Democrats’ proposal. Nuclear power, he adds, does not emit heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, the primary target of the cap and trade program.

Expect to hear more about it in the coming months. Will any of it find its way into serious Senate consideration? It’s too early to tell as some of the 40 Senate Republicans, while pledging support, will certainly also negotiate with Dems on a potential compromise.