Reading the Energy TEA Leaves after the Election

While the results of the 2010 midterm elections are still be digested, the impact on the energy industry seems likely to be net positive if you believe in a balanced energy future that includes using more of America’s domestic energy potential.  If you are the American Wind Energy Association you probably are still drinking to ease your pain.  This gallows humor is meant to suggest that the GOP and TEA Party view that America should have a well rounded, domestic product focused energy strategy is likely to move forward in search for common ground with the Democrat view of climate change action and renewable energy.

From RES to CES. The panel said that AWEA’s push for a national renewable energy standard (RES) had little chance of passing but a modified clean energy standard (CES) that included tax support for building new nuclear power plants and investing in clean coal technology along with continued tax credits and loan guarantees for renewable energy might find common ground. As you can imagine adding tax supported competition for new baseload generation from zero emission nuclear power and low emissions from clean coal carbon capture and sequestration was not what the wind boys wanted to hear on top of their other problem competing with China.  But that is where they are like it or not so the debate is shifting toward finding a compromise number higher than the 15% RES proposed by AWEA but allowing nuke and clean coal to count.  Unless you raise the target it becomes a zero-sum game with the larger baseload plants swamping the smaller wind and solar plants.  Do I hear 33% anybody?

Waxman-Markey is Dead and AB32 Got a Stay of Execution. It seems clear that hell will freeze over before any kind of carbon tax bill makes it out of Congress.  Even the president admitted this was dead until at least after the next Presidential election.  Even in California where voters rejected Proposition 23 to suspend AB32 the California Global Warming Solutions Act those same voters approved Proposition 26 which reclassified administrative fees and impact fees just like CARB expects to impose to tax carbon releases under AB32 as a “tax” and thus requires a 2/3 vote of the Legislature or voter approval.  Carbon taxes are going to be radioactive in this new political environment.

New Nukes. It is time to step up the nuclear licensing, standards and regulatory approval process for new standard technologies for smaller scale, safe nuclear power plants. We should create a competitive market among the major architect-engineers and take advantage of the construction experience in other countries while America has been on the nuke sidelines to accelerate our go-to-market strategies.  America needs more baseload power for the future and now is the time to build the next generation of nukes to expand the current fleet and progressively replace the oldest units.  And we need to do this BEFORE inflation eats our lunch and sends us déjà vu into the same death spiral cost overrun conditions that hurt the first generation nuclear units.

Drill Baby Drill. Domestic oil and gas production won new champions in this election in the belief that America should produce more of its own energy book and put its best technology to work to do so efficiently, cleanly and effectively.  Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are America’s current technology wonder of the world and we should use to our own advantage.  States like New York and Pennsylvania that seek to restrict the use of these technologies in the Marcellus shale risk being left behind with higher price energy costs and lower tax revenues.

Will Clean Coal still be King? The technology risk associated with carbon capture and sequestration and other clean coal technologies make them very costly and commercially un-viable today.  More R&D is needed to unlock that potential and drive down the cost.  There is a role for the government in encouraging and supporting such R&D efforts but the coal industry must now step up and spend more of its own money to extend its useful life.  Similarly, creating a market for the captured carbon and turning it into useful CO2 gathering products makes perfect sense and also need to be supported.  Meanwhile, add scrubbers and other pollution control equipment to the current units and mitigate their negative impacts.

EPA and New Rules for Regulatory Accountability.  A likely scenario to a wounded President unable to get his energy and environmental agenda through a disbelieving Congress is to use his executive authority to regulate everything that moves in the energy industry through the US EPA and other Federal agencies.  The new Republican majority in the House will need to guard against this over-reach.  And the TEA party members will probably welcome one more revolutionary idea—all Federal regulations must reasonably balance policy objectives intended with the public and economic interests of the nation and be submitted to Congress for an up or down vote.  Give Congress 90 days from submittal to act or the rules go into effect but force legislative accountability for regulatory actions.  Also sunset every regulation at least every ten years so we have to rethink this stuff periodically.  If the goal is to control the size and reach of government and force it to balance interests reasonably the Congress must fix the problem of regulatory free will.

There ends the rant!


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