The “Forum Looking at America’s Energy Roadmap to 2050,” hosted at West Virginia University by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. and WVU President James Clements was held in Morgantown this past Monday. Limited seating resulted in standing room only for many observers.
“This is what we’ve needed to do,” said McKinley. He joked that, as one of two engineers in Congress, he needs to “see some kind of an energy plan.” Clements said the goal at WVU is to become “America’s energy university,” an activity that he said requires balance and focus.
About 20 other participants represented fossil fuels, renewable energy and electricity, environmental and consumer groups and public agencies. They contributed to brief roundtable commentary on each of six topics: regional and national energy policy; role of fossil fuels in such a policy; whether carbon capture, utilization and sequestration is viable; consequences of a transition from fossil fuels; ways Congress could strengthen federal investment and stimulate public-private partnerships; and how non-conventional uses of fossil fuels in transportation and chemical feedstocks could impact the local economy.
A few friends and I attended the forum and discussion as outsiders. At the head table flanking McKinley were Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and WVU President Jim Clements. Others at the table were energy CEO’s, other industry leaders and a UMWA representative. There were also three environmental groups represented at the table. It would be fair to characterize these three groups as “capital intensive,” as compared to “membership intensive” environmental groups that have a large active set of members.
In formulating a national energy policy the discussion soon dissed oil out of the conversation. The policy should primarily concern fuels we have in abundance in the United States they said. Nuclear rated little attention, and solar, wind, wave and renewable sources were considered of little significance. The national energy policy so defined would primarily benefit the industries most represented in the room.
The idea that air could be purified to oxygen to facilitate carbon capture and storage was discussed. Opinion in the panel placed the cost of carbon capture at an additional 75 to 80% of the present cost of coal generated electricity. At present there is no discussion of carbon capture for gas-generated electricity. This observer sees this as a great subsidy for gas generated electricity, and a handicap for coal. Surely carbon dioxide from burning gas has the same effect as carbon dioxide from coal.
Fossil fuels were touted as reliable, inexpensive and abundant, but in view of the foregoing, “inexpensive” might have to be dropped from the list, and “healthy” didn’t make the list. A great deal was said about the market system controlling the form of energy demanded by customers. The market may not work to the advantage of fossil fuels when health and other costs are considered. Technological fixes to a mature industry are difficult, and both solar and wind, as new technologies, have significant improvements coming along regularly.
Government control and the EPA in particular were repeatedly called a problem. However, government research for the industries was considered vital. The present $400 million a year is not enough for carbon capture research. A dollar a month addition to all electrical bills to be used for coal research was suggested.
This observer found the forum interesting, but a bit like a family reunion. The public interest demands input from customers, and a mind set comfortable with change. Both were missing.
S. Tom Bond, Jane Lew, Lewis County, WV