Wednesday, July 08, 2009

NRDC Study: Ozarks Would Benefit From Alternative Fuels


Parts of the Ozarks are ripe to develop alternative fuels to coal -- such as wind power and biogas -- according to a new study of Missouri energy commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report argues that the state's rural areas could take advantage of new climate and energy policy commonly known as "cap and trade," which recently passed the U.S. House. The legislation limits carbon emissions and encourages the development of renewable fuels. But Ozarks utility companies have warned the current bill would raise customer utility rates significantly.

Martin Cohen, who wrote the NRDC report, estimated that Missouri's fossil fuel bill adds up to about $3,000 a person each year. "If a small faction of that went to developing local renewables, it would create thousands of jobs," Cohen said in a conference call with reporters.

The study finds that northern Barry County, southern Lawrence County and southern Dade County are areas that produce the wind speeds necessary to generate power. Twenty-five hundred square miles in 27 Missouri counties are identified in the study as prime areas for wind power production.Justify Full

The report also identifies 50 counties with livestock operations large enough to support biogas production, including Camden and Cedar.

The problem, according to the report's author, is that Missouri lags behind other states in tapping these resources.

For instance, while Iowa generates almost 3,000 mega watts of wind power, Missouri only produces about 163.

"It would not create a great deal of development . . . to create a lot of jobs," Cohen said.

The lack of a marketplace is also a barrier, according to NRDC spokesperson Tony Wyche. "Without some incentive to produce clean, renewable energy, such as a cap and trade bill, there is also no incentive to invest in it," said Wyche, who also serves as a spokesperson for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan.

According to an NRDC analysis, the cap and trade legislation could save Missourians an average of $6.32 on their utility bills by 2012. That's a stark difference from the $20 hike many Ozarks area utilities estimate will be tacked onto customer bills if the legislation is enacted in its current form.

The impact of the legislation is widely disputed from the Ozarks to Washington. Even Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has voiced concerns about the cost on the coal-dependent state she represents.

Senior Senator Kit Bond has been much more vocal and adamant in his opposition, recently stacking all the different versions of the House bill in front of colleagues, which added up to more than 6-thousand pages.

"What needles are the majority trying to hide in the haystack?" Bond said, noting that 300 pages were added during a 3 a.m. committee hearing.

Bond has made the case that push to clean the air has been cloudy.

"The American people and my Missouri constituents deserve to know why it takes 1,427 pages to address energy issues," Bond asked.

Even without Bond, the climate for cap and trade remains a rough sell for Senate Democrats because many of their members come from states that produce a use coal.

According to Reuters, among changes that could be sought to win broader support for the bill are less ambitious carbon emission reduction goals, the inclusion of nuclear power as an alternative energy source, and tougher regulation of the pollution permits that companies could trade to each other.

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