Conquering climate change is expensive. To whom shall we give the invoice?
President Obama recently announced executive action to curb the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Many scientists say those gases create a dome over the earth that holds in warm air, raising the average temperature. The carbon dioxide from coal- and gas-fired power plants and automobile tailpipes is a greenhouse gas.
We didn’t get to this point quickly, and we won’t improve the environment without decades of commitment. The cost is almost incalculable.
That’s why electric cooperatives started long before now:
- We partnered with the Coastal Conservation League and others in the environmental community to look for substantive ways we can work together toward affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible power supplies. Through such consensus building, electric cooperatives effectively pulled the plug on the proposed coal-fired power plant in Florence County in 2009.
- We researched the real potential of renewable energy— solar, wind and others—in the Palmetto State. There’s more potential than is operating now, but the amount that is practically available is less than some would have you believe. We currently sell renewable energy generated from methane-gas-fired power plants on landfills.
- We examined the potential for real energy savings through improved energy efficiency of homes and businesses. We recently completed a 125-home pilot program testing the feasibility of financing energy-efficiency improvements in homes for those who cannot afford the up-front cost.
What did we learn? Using more renewable resources now and achieving greater energy efficiency in South Carolina homes is possible, but it’s not cheap. Hence my question: To whom shall we give the invoice for changing the climate in the way the president hopes to do?
The South Carolinians we serve in rural areas are 50 percent more likely to live below the poverty line than those in urban or suburban areas, and one in four of our members resides in a manufactured home, frequently challenged by energy inefficiency.
No matter how well you think the public good will be served by the president’s plan, the plan will be costly to implement.
An $8 billion pledge to research cleaner-burning coal plants? Bring it on. South Carolina already has some of the best “scrubbed” coal plants in the country. Santee Cooper, a significant source of electric cooperative electricity, added emissions scrubbers to its coal plants years ago. New coal-fired power plants may not be built, but with more than 500 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. (South Carolina’s electric cooperatives get nearly 70 percent of their power from coal), solar and wind energy won’t replace them anytime soon, nor will my personal favorite, energy efficiency, or what I call “replacing megawatts with negawatts.”
Directing the EPA to work with us to limit carbon dioxide emissions? We welcome it, as long as EPA does as much listening as talking. Telling us to get rid of more carbon emissions without hearing of and planning for the pain consumers will feel is not sufficient.
Support for local climate-resilient investment by removing barriers? Yes, help us. Our research on our state’s energy-efficiency potential already has national recognition. Our ideas have been presented to Congress. Our field tests have shown good potential, too. Again, we partnered with the Coastal Conservation League to successfully urge our state’s policymakers to upgrade our state’s building codes to improve the efficiency of new home construction.
Lead international efforts to address global climate change? That’s a must, because America can’t fix a worldwide climate issue alone, and neither can bill-paying South Carolina co-op members. The president alluded to some exceptions for the poorest countries. Mr. President, electric cooperative trustees will be concerned also about poor South Carolinians for whom we believe cost will be a bigger-than-expected issue.
We agree that we cannot use challenges as excuses. They can be used as opportunities. The 1.3 million South Carolinians who use power from electric cooperatives today—and our children and grandchildren—are counting on us to do so. But, we still have to deal with that invoice.