Mar 5, 2009

Obama's carbon cap-and-trade plan bad for U.S., worse for Florida

Worried about a hot planet?

Well, then, get ready to pay for a cooler one.

Cap and trade is coming to your electric bill in 2012 if Barack Obama has his way, and I assume he will.

This is why Progress Energy plans to build two nuclear-power plants, and why OUC is buying into them.

Cap and trade is a government-mandated, free-market approach to cutting carbon-dioxide emissions.

Here is how it works: Let's say the government decides utilities and factories can only emit 100 tons of carbon a year. It then would auction off 100 pollution permits, each good for 1 ton of carbon.

You pay to pollute.

Utilities that need additional permits could buy them on the open market from utilities that have spares. Price would vary according to demand.

Over time, the government would auction off fewer permits at a higher cost, coercing utilities into using cleaner power. It's hard to peg the cost without details.

One projection had cap and trade raising electric rates 11 percent by 2030. But a cap-and-trade system in Europe has raised the cost of household power by 25 percent in Germany.

Cap and trade was used successfully to clean up acid-rain pollution. But the difference with carbon is there is no magic filter that traps it.

That is a big problem with coal because when burned, it gives off twice the amount of carbon dioxide as natural gas. A hefty carbon penalty would clobber coal burners such as OUC, hence its interest in nuclear power.

OUC also is one of several utilities nationwide turning to natural gas. This will drive up the cost.

Not helping matters is that Florida is blocking energy companies from drilling into rich natural-gas deposits off our shores. And Gov. Charlie Crist just nixed plans for a natural-gas import terminal in South Florida.

We are increasing our dependence on a fuel while cutting off our access to it.

We are painting ourselves into a very expensive corner.

Cap and trade is a big gamble. We are imposing carbon penalties before there is a carbon solution. It's all based on the belief that American ingenuity can save the day if we simply force the issue.

It is quite the leap of faith. As it now stands, wind and solar provide only intermittent and expensive energy. Neither is anywhere close to providing prime-time power 24 hours a day.

Clean-coal technology never has been attempted. It basically involves sticking the smokestack into the ground and piping the emissions deep beneath us. This remains a questionable and hugely expensive proposition, and one not suited for Florida because of our geology.

Obama seems to have abandoned nuclear power, not even mentioning it in his speech to Congress last week.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are planning to build a hundred of the same kind of nuclear plants that Progress Energy plans to build. That is in addition to all the coal plants they're throwing together.

We could be losing the energy race.

If so, we also would lose the manufacturing race.

This is why Hillary Clinton has put human rights on the side burner as she tries to persuade China to join the anti-carbon crusade. If China and India don't go along, we would be unilaterally disarming our economy.

As for Florida, we aren't windy enough for wind power outside of the occasional 150 mph gusts.

Solar power is costly and inefficient because of the clouds and rain.

Nuclear is the best option but requires high upfront costs, not good in a state that considers next week the future.

And so I leave you with this advice: Insulate your house, sell that big-screen plasma TV and cross your fingers for an ice age.

Orlando Sentinel 3/1/09
Mike Thomas can be reached at mthomas@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5525.

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