The leaders of Chattanooga's growing clean energy industry urged U.S. senators this week to give them a boost by adopting legislation that sets a price on heat-trapping carbon emissions and offers help for alternative energy sources.
But with less than two weeks left on the Senate's summer schedule before this fall's elections, the prospects of a major energy bill this year appear to be losing steam.
"Unfortunately, I just don't think that energy legislation is going to be addressed this year, " U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Wednesday night.
Senate Democrats will huddle today to plot what, if any, energy bill they may try to bring to the Senate floor for a vote next week. Republicans have vowed to fight climate change legislation that includes a cap and trade provision like the one adopted in a House energy package a year ago by a 219-212 vote.
"Cap and trade will raise the cost of energy to all Georgians, the majority of whom get their electricity from coal-fired electric plants," said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.
Despite opposition to the House-approved cap and trade energy bill by the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups, growing Tennessee energy businesses such as Alstom Power, Signal Energy, Aerisyn and Hemlock Semi-Conductor say they would benefit from such legislation.
Alstom Power, which is investing $300 million to expand its Chattanooga plant with more than 350 new jobs, wants climate-control legislation to help boost its nuclear power and clean coal projects. Alstom is working on projects to capture and bury carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming. The Chattanooga plant also is equipped to produce major components for new nuclear reactors, which don't emit carbon.
What generates local electricity
63.3 percent coal
30.8 percent nuclear
5.2 percent hydroelectric
0.8 percent natural gas
62.2 percent coal
22.4 percent nuclear
11.1 percent natural gas
1.5 percent hydroelectric
Sources: U.S. Energy Administration Agency, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity
"What the market is looking for now is certainty, so we believe Congress needs to move forward and help set a price on carbon so that utilities and others know how to plan for the future," Robert Hilton, vice president of power technologies for government affairs at Alstom, said after meeting with Sens. Corker and Lamar Alexander, also R-Tenn.
Alstom is among at least 161 Tennessee clean energy businesses that collectively employ more than 56,000 workers. Two of Tennessee's new billion-dollar investments - Hemlock Semi-Conductor in Clarksville and Wacker Chemical near Charleston - are solar panel plants. Other local manufacturers in the wind industry - Aerisyn and Signal Energy - are also making new multi-million-dollar manufacturing investments.
Sen. Corker said there are "tremendous opportunities" for such investments and others planned in nuclear power and electric-powered vehicles in Tennessee. But he cautioned against the growing tax credits, loan guarantees and direct investments in energy, which he said total more than $1 trillion a year in subsidies.
"We're picking winners and losers and I just don't think we need to do that," he said.
Sen. Alexander has questioned the tax and production credits for the solar industry, which he said are 25 times greater than any other energy subsidies per megawatthour produced. Instead, Sen. Alexander wants "a Manhattan-style" program to build 100 new nuclear reactors.
The Manhattan Project designed and built the first atomic bombs in the 1940s, using, among other sites, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
The conservative Heritage Foundation estimates that the House-passed version of cap and trade would push up energy costs for the typical household by more than $400 a year.