An Opportunity for Sensible Energy Policies

By: Glenn McCullough, Jr.

If there is one area where President Barack Obama and the new Congress should be able to readily and substantively find common ground in 2011, it is energy policy.

As a lifelong Republican appointed by President Bill Clinton to the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority and then by President George W. Bush to chair it, I commend Obama for his post-election press conference comments on energy.

The president said: “I don’t think there’s anybody in America who thinks that we’ve got an energy policy that works the way it needs to; that thinks that we shouldn’t be working on energy independence.” He’s right.

If there is one area where President Barack Obama and the new Congress should be able to readily and substantively find common ground in 2011, it is energy policy.

As a lifelong Republican appointed by President Bill Clinton to the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority and then by President George W. Bush to chair it, I commend Obama for his post-election press conference comments on energy.

The president said: “I don’t think there’s anybody in America who thinks that we’ve got an energy policy that works the way it needs to; that thinks that we shouldn’t be working on energy independence.” He’s right.

Obama then listed several policies he supports with senators and congressmen across party, ideological and regional lines. These include: expansion of nuclear power, expanded use of natural gas reserves and the transition to electric cars powered with U.S.-made electricity instead of expensive, high-polluting imported oil.

America’s power generation capacity is critically important for our economic security and growth.
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This is certainly the case in the Greater Memphis region, where the economy is anchored by energy-intensive industries such as manufacturing, transportation, distribution, supply-chain management and medical services. These industries and others need affordable and reliable electricity to maintain jobs and increase hiring. They also need the assurances of having a growing and abundant supply of power, as the consequences of lost power (i.e., a single blackout or even rolling blackouts) can be catastrophic.

America needs to continually modernize and expand its power generating capacity, in particular base load power (coal, nuclear, hydro and natural gas) which can produce power consistently and reliably 24/7.

The president and congressional leaders should meet soon to hammer out specifics of an energy law which can be enacted in early 2011 and provide significant economic benefits later in the year. Here are three suggestions for the measure.

Provide federal loan guarantees, as proposed by Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to build 100 advanced nuclear reactors in the United States over the next 20 years. The nuclear renaissance is already under way with the construction of the first nuclear plant in America in more than 30 years, and 22 proposals for reactors are under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Some 72 percent of U.S. electricity that does not produce greenhouse gases comes from nuclear power, and 67 percent of Americans, including the president, support the construction of new nuclear plants.

Accelerate electric car use and production. Automobiles and trucks consume more than 65 percent of the crude oil used in the United States. Recently there have been enormous discoveries of natural gas in the U.S. which can be used, in part, to power cars. Reducing our dependence on crude oil is good for the environment. Keeping “petro dollars” in the U.S. will also be a huge and sustained stimulus for our economy.

Rely on renewable sources of electricity where it makes economic sense. Renewable energy is more expensive than coal, nuclear, hydro or natural gas, but there are regions of the country where renewables can work. Arizona has solar, there’s wind on the Great Plains and biomass resources in the Southern states. Almost all recent public policy discussion about powering America has focused on the potential role that solar and wind could play. Yet today these sources account for less than 3 percent of U.S. electricity and their growth faces community, economic and even environmental hurdles.

By accelerating the growth of nuclear power, clean coal, electric cars and renewable power, there would be short-term and sustained job creation, expanded and modernized infrastructure, and affordable and reliable electricity.

There would also be huge environmental benefits. While renewables are no longer seen as the silver bullet for energy policy and “cap and trade” carbon reduction legislation is off the political table for at least two years, it is ironic that environmental improvements could be achieved merely by implementing measures that the vast majority of Americans support.

Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on these policies, resulting in significant economic and environmental benefits. It is time for Obama, the Congress and other Americans to move together to secure our energy future.

Glenn McCullough Jr. is a partner with Ardillo, McCullough & Taggart corporate consultants and a former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority.