by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 25, 2008
CARBON-FREE ELECTRICITY BY 2018? WE CAN DO THIS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."
Those were President Bush's parting words to his fellow leaders as he left a private meeting during the Group of Eight summit in Japan earlier this month.
The leaders of the world's richest nations were discussing ways to cut carbon emissions. Even after years of watching President Bush's sophomoric behavior at these summits, they were a bit shocked at this.
At least President Bush was being honest, although China is now neck-and-neck with the United States for the title of world's leading producer of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Contrast this behavior with that of the man who would've been elected president in 2000 if not for five conservative Supreme Court justices, former vice president Al Gore.
Last week, Gore offered this nation a challenge - the United States should commit itself to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, solar, geothermal and other non-greenhouse gas producing energy sources within 10 years.
It seems like an audacious goal, but its not. Gore's bipartisan group, the Alliance for Climate Protection, estimates it can be done for $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion of public and private money over the next 30 years - or roughly the same cost as building coal-burning power plants to satisfy future demand.
The moment for a plan like this has certainly arrived. The combination of global warming and out-of-control fossil fuel costs suddenly make the switch to green energy feasible.
While we are nowhere near abandoning fossil fuels like coal and oil, increased global energy demand is expected grow by 50 percent in the next two decades. And increased competition for oil by China and India will keep prices high for the foreseeable future.
Gore's plan does include using nuclear power and clean coal-burning technology, but only at current levels. The big push will be in wind and solar energy in the coming years, and some aren't waiting around for that moment.
At about the same time Gore was giving his speech, the Texas Public Utility Commission gave preliminary approval to a plan to build $4.9 billion of new transmission lines to bring energy from wind farms in West Texas to urban areas.
Texas already generates 5,000 megawatts of wind energy, more than any other state. But the capacity for tapping wind power on the Lone Star State's gusty plains is so great - it's expected to quadruple in the coming decade - that it could become one of the world's leading producers.
That's why the Texas power line project approved Thursday is so crucial. Wind is plentiful in sparsely populated places such as West Texas, Montana and the Dakotas, but without transmission lines to carry that power to populous areas that need electricity, wind power is a non-starter.
Some Texans see wind power as something that could be as big as the oil and gas booms of the last century. They see wind turbines replacing oil rigs all over the state.
T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire oil man, is building a 150,000-acre, $10 billion wind farm in the Texas panhandle, just north of Sweetwater. It will be the world's largest wind farm and produce 4,000 megawatts of power - the equivalent combined output of four large coal-fired plants - and it will double the wind energy output of the United States.
"I like wind because it's renewable and it's clean and you know you are not going to be dealing with a production decline curve," Pickens told The New York Times earlier this year. "I have the same feelings about wind as I had for the best oil field I ever found.
Like Gore, Pickens proposes increased use of wind and natural gas to reduce the need for imported oil. He calls the United States "the Saudi Arabia of wind" and envisions it providing as much as 20 percent of the nation's electricity. His Web site, www.pickensplan.com, explains it all.
When a Nobel Prize-winning environmental advocate and one of the most successful oil men in the world are on the same page, you know times are changing. But it's going to take an unprecedented commitment of money and political will to transform the American energy portfolio into something cleaner, greener and more sustainable.
That's why Gore laid down the 10-year challenge.
"A political promise to do something 40 years from now is universally ignored because everyone knows that's meaningless," Gore said. "Ten years is about the maximum time that we as a nation can hold a steady aim and hit the target."
It took less than a decade for this nation to put a man on the moon. It took about 20 years to build the bulk of the Interstate Highway System, and about that long to create the modern Internet. During World War II, this nation went from civilian production to building tanks, planes and ships in amazing numbers at amazing speed in less than two years.
When we have a goal and the will to reach it, this nation has done amazing things. It's time to show that this nation is ready to meet a challenge and respond with the intelligence, creativity and drive that has epitomized America at its best. Now it's time for the biggest challenge of all - to save our planet and our economy by creating a post-oil energy future.
Let's get to work.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.