What If We’re Wrong About Climate Change?

I have described our strategy for providing our customers with affordable, reliable and cleaner energy.

But what if we’re wrong about the imperative to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions? That is the subject of a high-profile debate, as the integrity of scientific research supporting the threat of climate change continues to be scrutinized.

I have thought about this long and hard. What if we are dead wrong? Would the course we’ve charted for our company and our customers be misguided? Would we change our plans if it were unlikely that Congress or the EPA would ever regulate carbon emissions?

My answer is “no.”

Even without carbon regulation, we would still need to complete our Cliffside and Edwardsport advanced coal projects and our two natural gas-fired plants in North Carolina, and pursue the nuclear option. Why? Because we will have to replace nearly every power plant we operate today by 2050, due to normal aging and technological obsolescence.

Why now? Because we must meet our clean energy aspirations and build a flexible generation portfolio that includes all fuel sources. Modernizing our fleet now gives us and our customers the flexibility to respond to unpredictable and ever-changing fuel prices.

We simply cannot rely on renewable energy for most of our power. Wind and solar power are intermittent. As such, they are not as reliable and affordable as baseload plants. Advances in electricity storage technology will continue to make renewables more reliable. Meanwhile, coal-fired plants, nuclear plants and even hydroelectric plants can provide power 24/7, as long as fuel is available.

Furthermore, renewables can lead to energy sprawl, impacting natural habitats and the wildlife that depend on them. Baseload plants have a much smaller footprint, given their land used per unit of energy generated. These are some of the trade-offs we must consider as we continue to work to reduce our carbon footprint.

If we’re not wrong about carbon and the scientific consensus continues to be that climate change is a very real risk, then our investments will have positioned our company to be a world leader in cleaner energy.

Repowering our states and creating jobs

Our strategy is also to bolster our local economies and build a solid economic base for future business. Between our Cliffside and Edwardsport projects, two of the largest capital projects under way in their states, approximately 4,000 construction workers are employed. The two North Carolina gas plants represent about another 1,000 construction jobs. The proposed nuclear power plants in South Carolina and Ohio would create an estimated 7,000 peak construction jobs combined — not to mention the hundreds of high-paying permanent jobs and the ongoing contributions to the local communities’ tax base once these facilities are operating.

Shedding a Light

To stay informed or to join the conversation on these and other key energy issues, I invite you to visit our new issues-oriented Web site, www.sheddingalight.org. At Shedding a Light, you will find information and a variety of different viewpoints on topics important to our company and our industry.