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Rural Missouri Magazine

The storm is here . . . we need your help

AMEC executive vice president Barry Hart
by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

When I lived in northwest Missouri, you could see a storm approach from a long way off. But no matter where you live today, signs of a storm looming on the horizon are becoming easier to spot.

I’m not talking about a spring thunderstorm or the last winter snow. The storm that’s threatening our rural way of life today is brewing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

The issue is global warming, or as it’s being called lately, climate change. All of the presidential candidates have indicated they will make this issue a priority. But it likely won’t wait until the November elections as momentum for climate change legislation picks up in Congress.

At the annual meeting of our national association, this debate took center stage. It wasn’t so much a debate on whether climate change is actually occurring. Instead, the talk centered on what can be done to ensure legislation intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions does not trigger a new energy crisis.

The need for more electricity is about to run smack dab into limits on emissions from power plants. In other words, consumers are demanding more power. But options for generating that power could be extremely limited in a carbon-constrained world.

While Congress talks about legislation to mandate curbs in carbon dioxide emissions, almost no one is talking about three important and related issues: Where is the future power going to come from, what technology do we need to develop to meet our future energy needs and what is all this going to cost consumers.

Research experts at the Electric Power Research Institute and well-respected economists have analyzed the legislation moving in the U.S. Senate. The impact they have identified on our economy and consumers is staggering.

They are predicting the cap-and-trade system proposed in the Lieberman/Warner bill could cost consumers in the U.S. $300 billion per year. That compares to the size of our country’s defense budget.

Another concern is that no one in Congress yet has come forward with a plan to develop the technology needed to meet the carbon limits proposed in the legislation. Our fear is that they will put the financial burden of technology development on the backs of consumers and our economy.

Further, legislation being debated today has the potential to make electricity unaffordable to all but the wealthiest Americans. It would take us back to the 1930s before the New Deal, when few in rural Missouri had electricity.

In February electric cooperatives kicked off a campaign called “Our Energy, Our Future.” The purpose of this program is to make lawmakers accountable, especially on the issue of rising rates.

We need your help in getting this dialogue between consumers and elected officials off the ground. At annual meetings this summer, your cooperative will be asking you to send letters and e-mails to your elected officials asking them three important questions:

1. What is your plan to make sure we have the electricity we’ll need in the future? 2. What are you doing to fully fund research required to make emissions-free electric plants an affordable reality? 3. Balancing electricity needs and environmental goals will be difficult. How much is all this going to increase my electric bill and what will you do to make it affordable?

You don’t have to wait for the annual meeting to get the ball rolling on these important questions. If you have Internet access, you can start the conversation with your elected officials now at www.ourenergy.coop. Or you can go by your electric cooperative office and ask for their assistance to contact your U.S. senators or representative.

By doing so, you can make the difference between the coming storm being a spring shower instead of a tornado. And you can help prevent us going back to the 1930s when affordable electricity wasn’t available in rural Missouri.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart

 


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