Gore: Carbon-free electricity in 10 years doable

July 17, 2008 5:49:40 PM PDT
Former Vice President Al Gore called Thursday for a "man on the moon" effort to switch all of the nation's electricity production to wind, solar and other carbon-free sources within 10 years, a goal that he said would solve global warming as well as economic and natural security crises caused by dependence on fossil fuels. "The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels," Gore told a packed auditorium in Washington's historic Constitution Hall. "When you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices."

Gore compared the challenge to establishing Social Security and the Interstate highway system, as well as landing a man on the moon - all successes that took more than a single presidency to accomplish and required members of both political parties to overcome their partisanship.

The Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan group Gore leads, put the 30-year cost of his plan - both government and private - at $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion.

To speed up the transition to new energy sources, Gore said the single most important policy change would be to "tax what we burn, not what we earn," advocating a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

Gore's proposal would represent a significant shift in where the U.S. gets its power. In 2005, coal supplied slightly more than half the nation's 3.7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. Nuclear power accounted for 21 percent, natural gas 15 percent and renewable sources, including wind and solar, about 8.6 percent.

Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for sounding the alarm about climate change and his documentary on the issue, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Oscar. In his speech, he did not address what to do about coal, which is responsible for more than a third of the United States' carbon dioxide pollution, the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Coal's share of electricity generation is only expected to grow between now and 2030, according to Energy Department forecasts that assume no new government controls will be put on pollution. Renewable energy resources' share of the power production would grow to 11 percent under that scenario.

In an interview with The Associated Press after his speech, Gore said coal's place in the nation's energy future will depend on whether the industry cuts back on carbon.

"Even coal has a role to play if the carbon dioxide is captured and safely buried ... but clean coal does not exist right now," Gore said.

Gore told the AP that his plan counts on nuclear power plants still providing about a fifth of the nation's electricity while the U.S. dramatically increases it's use of solar, wind, geothermal energy and clean coal technology. He said one of the largest obstacles will be updating the nation's electricity grid to harness power from solar panels, windmills and dams and transport it to cities.

The Edison Electric Institute, the private utility industry's trade association, said it shares Gore's support for more renewable generation, a "smarter" power grid and the eventual use of plug-in electric vehicles.

"But we cannot do the job with renewable and efficiency alone," it said. A portfolio for the future must also include "an expanded role for nuclear energy, as well as natural gas and clean coal with carbon capture and storage."

Some energy experts said the turnaround Gore advocates is too fast.

Robby Diamond, president of Securing America's Future Energy, a nonpartisan energy policy group, said weaning the nation away from fossil fuels - coal, oil and natural gas - can't be done in a decade.

"The country is not going to be able to go cold turkey," Diamond said. "We have a hundred years of infrastructure with trillions of dollars of investment that is not simply going to be made obsolete." Gore said the changing economics of energy, in which high gasoline and oil prices are driving investments in renewable energy, would overcome the political and technological obstacles.

His challenge comes as Congress, and the White House, are debating how to address high energy prices, particularly the oil that drives the nation's transportation. Both Democrats and Republicans are pushing for more exploration and production of domestic fossil fuels, albeit in different ways.

"It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil 10 years from now," Gore said.

In the past year, Congress has rejected initiatives that would make Gore's vision a reality. Requiring part of the nation's energy to come from alternative sources didn't have enough support in the Senate to become part of an energy bill in December. And a bill before the Senate last month to cut greenhouse gases got 48 votes.

Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement Thursday that the problem has been political will. "Climate change and energy security are not just threats ... , they are opportunities," he said. "We need to change the debate in this country from what we can't do, to what we can do."

Gore told the AP he hoped the speech would contribute to "a new political environment in this country that will allow the next president to do what I think the next president is going to think is the right thing to do." He said both fellow Democrat Barrack Obama and Republican rival John McCain are "way ahead" of most politicians in the fight against global climate change.

McCain, who supports building more nuclear power plants as one solution to global warming, said Thursday he admires Gore as an early and outspoken advocate of addressing the global warming problem even though "there may be some aspects of climate change that he and I are in disagreement (on)."

Of the goals Gore outlined Thursday for generating more electricity with solar and wind resources, McCain said, "If the vice president says it's doable, I believe it's doable."

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Associated Press writer Ron Fournier contributed to this report. ---

On the Net:

Al Gore speech: http://www.wecansolveit.org

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