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Guns, Butter, or Green?

Utilities will face stark tradeoffs in meeting the next round of emissions controls.

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2005

to address emissions of mercury and greenhouse gases?

I'm "Renewable," You're Not

Even as utilities around the country are spending billions to buy and install scrubbers and the like to clean up coal plants, Congress has been exploring a federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to harmonize all the state initiatives.

Many panelists at a recent hearing held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources called for a redefinition of what a renewable portfolio standard should be. Executives Wayne Brunetti (chairman & CEO, Xcel Energy) and Don Furman (senior vice president, regulation & external affairs, PacifiCorp), each called for an expanded definition of a federal renewable portfolio standard that would include so-called "non-traditional" renewables, such as clean coal and nuclear.

Tom Kuhn, president of EEI and a staunch supporter of clean coal, chimes in:

"If the development of these new technologies is funded adequately and they are successful, the next generation of coal-based generators available commercially between 2025-2035 will feature greater than 99 percent removal of SO 2, NO X , and particulate matter, 95 percent removal of mercury, and the ability to capture and sequester CO 2."

Nevertheless, such proposals (to expand the definition of "renewable") have met with some resistance. Nuclear, for example, has garnered a disproportionate share of federal largesse, if you compare it with other, more traditional "renewable" resources. A study conducted in 2003 by the Renewable Energy Policy Project showed that between 1943 and 1999, the nuclear industry had received over $145 billion in federal subsidies versus $4.4 billion for solar energy and $1.3 billion for wind energy. All the same, nuclear power is seen increasingly as the answer.

At a conference held several weeks after Kyoto's enactment, John Carberry, director of environmental technology at DuPont, one of the largest U.S. chemical manufacturers, talked of his company's early programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The DuPont executive could boast of a program with goals of holding energy use flat (1990 through 2010), while seeking to reduce 65 percent of his company's GHGs. So successful was his program, in fact, that by 2003 his firm had already achieved a 70 percent reduction. All this while the company's production grew 35 percent.

But Carberry admitted that it would become more difficult and possibly costly to hold energy use flat as new production opportunities arise. He suggested that nuclear power might be the only energy technology that could sustain future American business growth and competitiveness while meeting tougher environmental goals.

The Domenici Code and American Corporate Competititiveness

Sen. Pete Domenici offers support for nuclear in his recently published book,  A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise  of Nuclear Energy . The senator acknowledges regulatory roadblocks (waste disposal, etc.) that confront nuclear developers, but his analysis illustrates what other countries are doing to manage the fuel mix.

DuPont's Carberry suggested that what might be required is a Japan-style resource mix goal of 70 percent nuclear to keep American business competitive. In fact, Domenici found that the Japanese government announced that a heavy reliance would have to be placed on