Analysis: Climate bill may spur energy revolution

WASHINGTON (The Associated Press) - Jun 27 - By H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated Press Writer

> Congress has taken its first step toward an energy revolution,
> with the prospect of profound change for every household, business,
> industry and farm in the decades ahead.
> It was late Friday when the House passed legislation that would,
> for the first time, require limits on pollution blamed for global
> warming - mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Now the
> Senate has the chance to change the way Americans produce and use
> energy.
> What would the country look like a decade from now if the House-
> passed bill - or, more likely, a water-down version - were to become
> the law of the land?
> "It will open the door to a clean energy economy and a better
> future for America," President Barack Obama said Saturday.
> But what does that mean to the average person?
> Energy touches every corner of the economy and in countless ways
> can alter people's lives.
> Such a law would impact how much people pay to heat, cool and
> light their homes (it would cost more); what automobiles they buy and
> drive (smaller, fuel efficient and hybrid electric); and where they
> will work (more "green" jobs, meaning more environmentally friendly
> ones).
> Critics of the House bill brand it a "jobs killer." Yet it would
> seem more likely to shift jobs. Old, energy-intensive industries and
> businesses might scale back or disappear. Those green jobs would
> emerge, propelled by the push for nonpolluting energy sources.
> That could mean making or installing solar panels, repairing wind
> turbines, producing energy-efficient light bulbs, working for an
> environmental engineering firm or waste recycler, making equipment
> that harnesses carbon from coal burning and churning out energy-saving
> washing machines or air conditioners.
> Assembly line workers at factories that made gas-guzzling cars
> might see their future in producing the next generation of batteries
> or wind turbine blades - an emerging shift, though on a relatively
> small scale today. On Wall Street, commodity brokers would trade
> carbon pollution credits alongside oil futures.
> Farmers would see the cost of fertilizer and electricity go up.
> More
> windmills would dot their pastures. And a new source of income could
> come from selling pollution credits by planting trees or changing
> farming methods to absorb more carbon dioxide.
> Energy would cost more because it would become more expensive to
> produce. For the first time there would be a price on the greenhouse
> gas pollution created when coal, natural gas or oil are burned. Energy
> companies would have to pay for technologies that can capture the
> carbon emissions, purchase pollution allowances or shift to cleaner
> energy sources.
> It all costs.
> Investors would see a new line item on companies financial
> reports:
> the cost of carbon permits.
> Some increases would be reflected in the prices of goods and
> services, economics say. It might mean shelling out more for a toy
> because plastic, a petroleum based product, is more expensive, or
> paying more for a house because of new efficiency requirements.
> Not all the higher energy cost would show up in people's utility
> bills. Households, as well as business and factories - including
> those, for example, making plastic for toys - could use less energy,
> or at least use it more efficiently. The poorest of homes could get a
> government check as a rebate for high energy costs. That money would
> come from selling pollution allowances for industry.
> Energy experts in government and industry say a price on carbon
> pollution would lead to new ways to make renewable energy less
> expensive, while emphasizing how people can use it more wisely.
> Potential changes to how homes are built and even financed seem
> likely as energy efficiency is taken into account in building codes
> and the cost of mortgages. With the cost of energy increasing,
> homeowners and businesses would have greater incentive to use more
> energy efficient lighting, windows and insulation.
> But don't think that the traditional sources of energy would
> disappear.
> Coal, which today accounts for half the electricity produced,
> would continue as a major energy source, though a less polluting one,
> energy experts forecast. That would mean capturing the carbon released
> when coal is burned.
> It's a technological hurdle with a complication: "not in my back
> yard"
> complaints over what to do with the billions of tons of carbon dioxide
> captured from power plants and pumped beneath the earth. Would people
> feel comfortable having it stored near or under their homes, factories
> and businesses?
> Scientists studying climate change say carbon capture from power
> plants is essential if the country is to take up the challenge against
> global warming.
> The cleaner energy economy also put nuclear energy front and
> center.
> Does the U.S. build new power plants? If so, where, and where does all
> the waste go? Nuclear energy makes up about one-fifth of the nation's
> electricity today.
> The House-passed bill contains provisions to make it easier to
> get loan guarantees and expands the nuclear industry's access to loans
> for reactor construction. An Environmental Protection Agency analysis
> that shows modest future costs from a low-climate energy world assumes
> a significant expansion of nuclear energy. The Senate could add more
> incentives for the nuclear industry.
> The new energy world would rely more on natural gas. This
> abundant fossil fuel emits carbon but is relatively clean when
> compared with coal.
> But people would have to decide whether to accept new pipelines that
> are needed to ship the gas around the country - just as they would
> have to deal with the need for new power lines to move solar and wind
> energy to where it's needed.
> ___
> EDITOR'S NOTE - H. Josef Hebert has covered energy and
> environmental issues for The Associated Press since 1990.