Alexander Proposes “New Manhattan Project For Clean Energy Independence”

Five-year focus on plug-in electric cars and trucks, carbon capture, solar power, nuclear waste, advanced biofuels, green buildings, fusion

Posted on May 9, 2008

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today proposed “launching a 5-year New Manhattan Project to put America firmly on the path to clean energy independence within a generation.” Alexander, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said he chose the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for his address because “this was one of three secret cities that were the principal sites for the original Manhattan project that split the atom to build the bomb that won World War II.” He told a gathering of scientists that “instead of ending a war, the goal will be clean energy independence – so that we can deal with rising gasoline prices, electricity prices, clean air, climate change and national security – for our country first, and – because other countries have the same urgent needs and therefore will adopt our ideas – for the rest of the world.” “By independence I do not mean that the United States would never buy oil from Mexico or Canada or Saudi Arabia. By independence I do mean that the United States could never be held hostage by any country for our energy supplies.” “In 1942, many were afraid that the first country to build an atomic bomb could blackmail the rest of the world. Today, countries that supply oil and natural gas can blackmail the rest of the world.” Congressmen Bart Gordon, Democratic chairman of the House Science Committee, and Zach Wamp, a senior Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee, also addressed the gathering. Alexander said that “bipartisan cooperation is imperative if we are to think and act big enough to achieve such bold goals.” “Sending $500 billion a year overseas to pay for oil weakens our dollar. It is half our trade deficit. It is forcing gasoline prices toward $4 a gallon and crushing family budgets,” Alexander continued. Alexander proposed seven “grand challenges” and asked scientists to help identify the steps to take during the next five years to meet those challenges so that America can be “firmly on the road to clean energy independence within a generation.” They are: 1. Make plug-in electric cars and trucks commonplace – The Senator said that beginning in 2010 Nissan, Toyota, General Motors and Ford will sell electric cars that can be plugged into wall sockets, and that FedEx is already using hybrid delivery trucks. Alexander said TVA has the equivalent of “several nuclear plants of idle nighttime electricity capacity” and could offer “smart meters” that would allow its 8.7 million customers to plug in their vehicles to “fill up” at night for only a few dollars, in exchange for the customer paying more for electricity between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. when the grid is busy. “Sixty percent of Americans drive less than 30 miles each day. Those Americans could drive a plug-in electric car or truck without using a drop of gasoline. By some estimates, there is so much idle electric capacity in power plants at night that over time we could replace three-fourths of our light vehicles with plug-ins. That could reduce our overseas oil bill from $500 billion to $250 billion – and do it all without building one new power plant.” In other words, he said, “We have the plug. The cars are coming. All we need is the cord.” The other grand challenges were: 2. Make carbon capture and storage a reality for coal-burning power plants. 3. Make solar power cost competitive with power from fossil fuels. 4. Safely reprocess and store nuclear waste. 5. Make advanced biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline 6. Make new buildings green buildings. 7. Provide energy from fusion. Alexander is chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Republican Conference and co-chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority Congressional Caucus. He is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees clean air and climate change issues, as well as the Appropriations Committee, which oversees funding for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.