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CEO Roundtable: Debating The Boucher Bill

Utilities consider imposing a retail surcharge to fund clean-tech R&D.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

subcommittee. This is the first time that I’ve ever had the opportunity to testify where there was not only bipartisan support for a piece of legislation, but bipartisan comments [supporting] the legislation, save Congressman Markey [D-Mass.] who wants the money to go to the government general fund so it can then be doled back out by them.

The Boucher bill’s concept has been worked out for a long time, and honestly most of the credit should go to [PNM CEO] Jeff Sterba, who worked this out while he was both chair of EEI and simultaneously the chair of EPRI. There was a time when I thought it was a silly idea that had zero chance of becoming the law of the land. I would tell you that now, based on many conversations with members of that subcommittee and other members of the House, it has a chance.

The point that Mike made is so important, and that is that this stays out of the hands of the government and is administered through a very broad board of directors, including state regulatory utility commissions and others, not just utility members. It has a technical committee as well to review the project so it isn’t EPRI all on its own. They’ll be representatives of research colleges from around the country.

I don’t disagree with Mike about the notion that if in fact renewables and conservation and all the other things we believe in [allow] us not to build any new stations, that’s great. But this technology will also be directed toward retrofitting the existing fleet, because there’s not enough renewables or energy efficiency to replace the current 50 percent of the electricity that’s coal-based. So I wouldn’t broaden it out. I’d leave it to direct itself toward CCS. That’s the name of the bill and that is its intent.

I do appreciate the point Mike made and I’m not arguing about it. I just think this unique piece of legislation should be driven toward that. It’s not dissimilar from the subsidies that solar and wind get already in tax [credits]. So let’s leave it as a single issue.

It is the predicate and not the replacement of cap and trade.

 

Fortnightly: AEP worked with NARUC, the United Mine Workers, EPRI and others to develop proposed amendments to the bill back in August. Have those amendments made their way into the Boucher-Upton bill?

Morris: In fact Congressman Boucher had asked then-Chairman Kerr of the North Carolina Utilities Commission and me to work with the United Mine Workers and others to find a compromise that works. We brought that to the EEI executive committee and full board a week or so ago, when we had our fall meeting, and as far as I know the language that’s in the bill is acceptable to the industry and acceptable to NARUC. Congressman Boucher was very thankful for that.

 

Fortnightly: Speaking more broadly, even if the Boucher bill doesn’t go forward, what do you think about the concept of an energy surcharge to finance RD&D?

Izzo: Let