The Presidential Debate

Staff Writer | Oct 10, 2007

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The leading presidential candidates are for the most part using standard political rhetoric when they talk about energy, calling for energy security, energy independence, or self-sufficiency. They are all jumping on the alternative energy bandwagon, bandying about any number of figures for what percentage of the nation's energy needs should be supplied by alternative sources and when.

However, some of the candidates have gone a little further, providing some concrete details of how they view energy and what policies they might espouse if elected.

The energy industry, meanwhile, has not yet emerged as a major factor in financing the presidential campaigns. Legal and financial services have taken the lead so far in contributions. Not surprisingly, Democrats, particularly the two leading candidates, are running ahead in campaign contributions, with Republican Rudy Giuliani heading his party's field of contenders.

As an industry, electrical utilities in the 2006 federal elections ranked 21st among 80 industry categories, according to the data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In total contributions for the nine elections held since 1990, the industry ranks 24th. The breakdown was 2-to-1 in favor of Republicans in 2006, as it has been almost to the penny in every federal election since 1996.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, who got a hefty donation from Exelon Corp., gave his major energy address at the Detroit Economic Club last May. While the speech contained several rhetorical flourishes (the "tyranny of oil," "oil addiction"), the candidate reiterated his support for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He would invest "substantial revenue" from auctioning off emissions credits into the development of carbon sequestration, advanced bio-fuels, and energy efficiency.

Given the venue, much of his focus was automobiles, and he called for higher fuel-efficiency standards and a National Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, a gradual reduction in the amount of hydrocarbons permitted in gasoline.

Obama backed the energy act of 2005, prompting critics to say he was motivated by his support for Illinois agribusiness, the act's subsidies for ethanol production and his backing of the state's coal industry. He has been severely criticized by environmentalists for his enthusiastic support for "coal-to-liquid" technology, because it produces twice the amount of greenhouse gases that oil does.

"I'll give him credit for that," says Charlie Fritts, who heads up the American Gas Association PAC, "for recommending a domestic source to replace a foreign source of energy." The group wants to see more natural gas drilling in areas now off limits.

The Pack

In a major speech last year at the National Press Club, Hillary Clinton outlined her strategy for reducing dependence on imported oil by 50 percent by 2025. Along with biomass fuels and increased efficiency, she called for a switch from high-carbon electricity sources to low-carbon electricity sources through innovations in renewables such as solar and wind, as well as carbon dioxide sequestration.

She cited scientific estimates that the wind potential of just three states - Texas, Kansas and North Dakota - is equal to more than half of the electricity we consume today. California could meet half of its power needs from solar alone, she asserted.

As part of her comprehensive legislation to overhaul energy taxes, Clinton's first suggestion was to extend the renewable electricity production tax credit for 10 years, along with incentives for improving fuel efficiency in vehicles, installing ethanol pumps, and promoting energy efficiency in businesses and homes. "We need a renewable portfolio standard to require 20 percent of electricity produced from wind, solar and other renewables by 2020," Clinton said in her speech.

She also advocated a cap-and-trade system for emissions, and emphasized the need to come to terms with coal by investing in clean coal technology. Clinton also gave a cautious nod to nuclear power, though she expressed concerns about the oversight provided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "If you look at nuclear energy, which currently provides 20 percent of our energy with virtually no emission of greenhouse gases, we do have to take a serious look," Clinton said.

John Edwards has similar proposals. He advocates a New Energy Economy Fund and wants electrical utilities to generate 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. He also supports development of clean coal technologies.

The Republicans

Mitt Romney said that he believes coal is an important part of the country's energy mix, though we must become cleaner and more efficient in how we use it to power the country. The United States must invest more research dollars in power generation, fuel technology and materials science, he says, noting that fluidized-bed combustion and integrated gasification combined cycle are promising technologies.

Romney also noted his support of energy efficiency programs and particularly ones that shift usage during peak times.

John McCain voted against the Energy Policy Act of 2005 on the grounds that it would mean higher energy prices for Arizonans. He is the co-author of a bill to implement a cap-and-trade emissions system. McCain does support homegrown sources like corn and switchgrass to make fuel to replace foreign supplies, but also wants to drop tariffs and subsidies that keep imports in check.

Giuliani has been more nuanced in his rhetoric, suggesting that diversifying energy sources is the road toward independence, while questioning that independence can be reached. He generally has been supportive of ethanol and bio-diesel, though fairly silent on renewable energy. His consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, last year supported client Entergy Nuclear Northeast in seeking a renewal of its license for the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County, and Giuliani has advocated expanded use of nuclear power.

Energy is not at the top of the agenda for any of the candidates, but it is an issue they cannot avoid as the campaign progresses. Given the length of the campaign, it seems certain the individual candidates' energy policies will become more detailed and more nuanced as the primaries draw near.

 By Darrell Delamaide, Guest Editor

 

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EnergyBiz magazine is the thought-leading, award-winning publication of the emerging power industry. This article originally appeared in the September/October 2007 issue.

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