Today's Question: What should the United States’ energy future look like?

Thursday, October 22, 2009 | 10:08 a.m. CDT; updated 8:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 22, 2009

In June, the House passed legislation that would reduce the emission of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

The legislation, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi called “transformative," requires that by 2020 the United States decrease the country’s production of greenhouse gases by 17 percent from 2005 levels and reduce those levels by 83 percent by 2050.

But House legislators were strongly divided over the climate bill, which passed narrowly with a 219-212 vote.

Those supporting the bill said it would make the United States a global leader in green jobs, move the country toward a future of clean energy consisting of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and result in only a minimal increase in each household's energy bill. Others called it a front for higher taxes.

President Barack Obama urged the Senate to pass the climate legislation.

The Senate bill uses a cap-and-trade arrangement to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gas. The system limits the amount of greenhouse gases the country produces each year. Pollution permits, called allowances, could be bought and sold, creating an incentive for companies to pollute less so they can sell their permit. The arrangement puts a price on carbon, which means legislation would impact some energy producers and regions more than others.

Groups that include energy firms, the wider business community,  lobbyists and legislators remain divided over the issue, especially the power-generating coal and natural gas interests. Natural gas interests say it’s feasible for gas to replace coal as an energy source and that the switch would decrease emissions. The resource accounts for 20 percent of the United States' electric power. But coal interests say a better long-term solution for the United States to tackle global warming is to wait for the technologies currently being developed to capture and bury coal emissions to be completed. Coal currently accounts for nearly half of the country's electric power.

Earlier this month at the Midwestern Governors Association's Jobs and Energy Forum in Detroit, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told legislators from the Midwest that clean energy is vital to the area's future and economic recovery.

What should the United States’ energy future look like?

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Robert Moen October 22, 2009 | 12:22 p.m.

Our energy future should be one of using natural gas as a bridge energy for 20-years until we totally phase-out coal generation and replace it with nuclear power. Our commute cars could then be electric and recharged at night. Smart grid technology will help us lower our electricity consumption. I see very little reason to focus on wind energy--too part-time, too expensive, too ugly, too many transmission lines. Research should continue on solar energy until it's prime time. CSS is a waste of money.

-- Robert Moen,

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 22, 2009 | 6:10 p.m.

But have you run the numbers to see how much natural gas we'll need to do that? One of the problems with hydrofracked shale gas wells is they deplete very quickly, and some landowners in Wyoming have already had their wells contaminated by fracking fluids. Just off the top of my head, I doubt we'll be able to generate a lot more electricity and run a lot of cars on NG without prices skyrocketing.

The "smart grid' can mean a lot of things. I have a feeling that a lot of home and business owners are going to resent allowing their power company to turn their lights and appliances on and off. They're going to demand that conventional power sources be kept available, because that is what they are paying for. Conservation and efficiency is viewed by many as un-American.

I think you have a good site, and a good grasp of what is practical and what isn't, Robert. But I don't think we can count on being able to use natural gas for too much more than what we use it for now, without some major demand side cuts.

Wind can work if it has energy storage (like compressed air or pumped hydro) included in the installation. Without that, it's not very effective, and can contribute to grid instability in more than token amounts.


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