June 23, 2010
By Eileen Claussen and Jim Rogers
This op-ed first appeared in Politico.
Passing a meaningful energy and climate bill this year will be challenging — but not impossible.
It’s time for all of us — politicians, business leaders and environmentalists — to put wishful thinking aside, establish realistic goals and develop a consensus for legislation that can be passed this year.
If that means capping emissions from the utility sector first — so be it. There is growing consensus in the electric utility industry to act now, so let’s move forward.
Duke Energy and other electric utilities are already scheduled to retire and replace virtually all coal and other large power plants with cleaner and more efficient technologies by 2050.
A clear and predictable federal energy and climate policy can accelerate these projects and put private capital to work more rapidly. It can also create millions of jobs.
This would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but would also reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions, which contribute to acid rain, smog and other health issues. That would improve air quality across the board.
At Duke Energy, approximately 6,000 people are now working on designing and building more advanced power plants. That’s quite an economic stimulus.
When their work is done, permanent jobs would be created, municipal and county tax collections would increase and old and inefficient power plants would be shut down.
With the right signal from Washington, the company can by 2020 close roughly 4,000 megawatts of coal plants more than 45 years old.
This action will drive greater use of cleaner, domestic energy sources that will enhance our nation’s security and limit pollution.
Sensible policy should include incentives for new emissions-free nuclear power, renewable energy and carbon capture and storage for coal plants. It must also clarify federal emissions regulations so electric utilities can shift to cleaner and more efficient power plants without the uncertainty of patchwork regulatory approaches and the threat of litigation.
Electric utilities have some of the strongest balance sheets in industry. They can now borrow private capital at historically low rates. For example, over the past 2½ years, Duke Energy has borrowed $8 billion at an average rate of less than 5.5 percent.
This means lower long-term costs to electric consumers — with no increase in the national debt and deficit.
But this will all take time. We need to be willing to adopt the three C’s: commitment, collaboration and compromise.
Commitment: We have to be in this together — for the long haul. Good energy and climate policies will allow the electric utility industry to make sound investment decisions.
Electric utilities may be willing to go first. But they are not going to be willing to go alone.
Collaboration: All successful environmental legislation has been predicated on a collaborative and bipartisan approach. The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, designed to reduce acid rain, urban air pollution and toxic air emissions, passed the House by a 401-21 vote and the Senate by a 89-11 vote.
That process of working together to find common ground among diverse stakeholders is what we need now.
Compromise: Collaboration succeeds only when there’s a real spirit of compromise. That’s why it is the cornerstone of our democracy. There must be give-and-take at every decision point.
Current clean energy and climate legislation is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s a work in progress that can begin our transition to a clean energy future. We need to look past our differences and act where there is agreement.
It’s time to get started.
Eileen Claussen is president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Jim Rogers is chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy.