Powering the FutureCleaning up coal.
The Obama Administration and Congress must work together to establish a five-year “Bucks for Belchers” Program modeled on “Cash for Clunkers.” Half of our electricity and a third of our carbon dioxide emissions come from coal-fired power plants. “These coal fire plants are going to continue to operate for decades, even as our industry turns to carbon-free electric power generating technologies,” wrote Entergy Corporation CEO Wayne Leonard. “Once built, coal plants are, in most cases, the cheapest source of power generation.” Because our coal-fired power plants will be belching out CO2 for decades, we should implement a “Bucks for Belchers” program that will curb emissions from these plants and jump start our green economy.
“Bucks for Belchers” will simultaneously introduce and fund four interrelated policies:
- The government will provide significant tax deductions to coal-fired plants that install post-combustion capture retrofits. Retrofitting all of these plants will reduce CO2 emissions from the coal power sector by 50 percent. The highly respected Electric Power Research Institute estimates that around 59 percent of the coal-fired plants in the US are suitable for these retrofits.
- The government will offer generous tax deductions for investments that increase the efficiency of the remaining 41 percent of coal-fired plants. Upgrades that enhance the steam quality in a plant will reduce its CO2 emissions by 5 percent.
- The EPA New Source Requirements procedure should be streamlined for all plants that apply to the Program so that businesses are not penalized for trying to become more energy efficient.
- The Program will provide $20 billion in financing for demonstration projects that integrate American-made renewable energy technologies into the portfolios of existing electricity providers. The renewable energy brought on-line by these projects will be subsidized so that electricity from these sites does not cost consumers more than the electricity coming from entirely fossil fuel burning sites.
The cost of this program cannot deter action. According to a recent study, the government could create two million new jobs by investing $100 billion in programs that support renewable and efficient energy use. This $100 billion is less than one-fifth of the amount of revenue earned by listed companies on climate-change-related business last year. Moreover, government backing for the renewable energy sector in Germany has nurtured an industry that employs more than 200,000 people and has had revenues of more than €20 billion ($29 billion) from the erection and operation of plants last year. Renewable energy is going to propel the world economy for generations—and the United States can’t afford to remain woefully behind.
“Bucks for Belchers” has the potential to stimulate green energy investments in all 50 states and help the U.S. become the leading user and exporter of green energy technologies. In the three months after the “Cash for Clunkers” program was passed, 98 percent of the $3 billion dollars earmarked for rebates was approved for payment. Government and the private sector can do amazing things when they work together—and in the wake of the Copenhagen debacle, there has never been a better time to announce that the U.S. is ready, willing and able to lead once again.