Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Energy Bill

Posted on June 20, 2007

Mr. ALEXANDER. I thank the Senator from New Mexico for the courtesy of the next 10 minutes, and I would ask the Chair to let me know when 1 minute remains. Mr. President, I compliment both Senators from New Mexico for their work on energy. As they did 2 years ago, they have made some important proposals. The 2005 bill was a terrific step forward, and there are some important suggestions in this bill. I want to especially say a few words about the tax part of the bill that came out today, and I will have more to say about that tomorrow and amendments to offer. It is probably not the first time it has been said of the Senate that there is too much wind here, but I would like to suggest there is too much of that in the tax bill that has been reported to the Senate. Here is the tax bill. As I read the figures: $28.5 billion more over the next 10 years, $10 billion of it for wind. Almost all of it is for subsidies to wind developers. 34 percent of the bill’s total goes toward this tax credit. This isn't the first time the Senate has been generous to wind. In the 2005 bill it was 19 percent. Why would I say that is a little too much wind? It is because in many parts of the country the wind doesn't blow sufficiently for us to rely on it for electricity. We have had some debate about Senator Bingaman's proposal, which might work very well in New Mexico or some other States to say that 15 percent of the electricity ought to be from renewable energy, mostly wind under this definition. This map of the United States shows that much of the wind in the Southeast and Eastern United States doesn't blow enough for that to happen there. So under that proposal, the one we were debating earlier, called the renewable portfolio standard, I am afraid Tennesseans would have to pay basically a tax of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which would be $410 million a year. We have one wind farm in the entire Southeast, and it is in Tennessee on Buffalo Mountain. Last August, while we were all sweating and perspiring with our fans on the front porch, the wind farm operated for 7 percent of the time. Most of us want our air conditioners when it’s hot – not just when the wind blows enough to make electricity. We are not the only ones who are beginning to see the limits of wind. Yesterday, the President of Pacific Gas and Electric in California, which likes wind power and is using wind power, said, according to California Energy Markets, that they will not make substantial new investments in wind generation, and "we think we are approaching in California itself the limit on wind." So why then if we are going to spend $28 billion for energy sufficiency -- that would mean reliable, clean electricity for the country in the world that uses 25 percent of all the energy in the world -- why then would we develop a national wind turbine policy instead of a national energy policy? Isn't $10 billion more -- which would make our total investment over the next 10 years more than $2 billion a year for wind turbines -- isn't that too much wind? I am not even talking so much about the fact of what these look like. I think I have said many times on this floor that in Tennessee I don't like the fact that these only work, when they work, on our most scenic ridgetops. We would prefer not to have them. That is not the case with everybody, I understand that. But it is important for people to know these aren't your grandmother's windmills. These are twice as tall as the sky boxes at the football stadium, and the rotor blades go from the 10-yard line to the 10-yard line. So there are limits as to where they should go. Across the country, even when performing well, they only work a third of the time. They often blow at the wrong time -- at night, when people are asleep and not using so much electricity. And you can't store the winds. Basically, a utility makes a big investment, paying somebody $20 million -- in the TVA Buffalo Mountain case $60 million for 20 years -- to buy wind, whenever it comes, and if it comes at night when the lights are off, tough, they just lose it. If it comes 7 percent of the time in August, when everybody's air conditioners are up, it doesn't help very much. Of course, even if you had it, you still need nuclear or coal or something else because most people want their computers and their electricity on when they want them on. As I mentioned, it is very difficult to store. It only uses about 1 percent of our current electricity needs. It does little to clean the air because we already have caps on sulfur and nitrogen, which I would like to accelerate, and it means lots of new power lines. So we have a 400-percent increase in wind capacity that would produce no change in emissions of nitrogen, no change in sulfur, and very little in carbon. My point is, I believe there are better ways to spend that $10 billion of the $28 billion we propose to spend over the next 10 years, better ways to spend one-third of all this money than on a national wind policy, since it doesn't work very well, it is not very reliable, and much of the country can't use it at all. For example, take fluorescent lighting. I know Senators Bingaman and Domenici have talked about this, but if we spent $2 billion a year just in tax credits for fluorescent lighting, we could save enough energy to equal eight 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors, or 18,000 1.8-megawatt wind turbines. Let's take another idea. What if we took the $2 billion a year and gave a credit for appliances, such as dishwashers, washing machines, and refrigerators. There is such a credit in the tax bill, and that is good. It costs about $100 million a year to encourage that. Why don't we extend that to 10 years? That would be $1 billion of the $10 billion we are spending on wind. It would save more electricity than we would get building wind. We talk about not just carbon but clean air. I know Vermont wants clean air. We want clean air in the mountains in Tennessee. For $2 billion a year we could buy six new scrubbers a year at $300 million a scrubber. A scrubber takes the sulfur out of the air that contributes to the unhealthy aspects and to the soot and to the smog that is unhealthy for people and interferes with our view of the mountains. Or take utility bills. The average utility bill for Tennesseans is $100 a month. This is $2 billion a year. We could just give the money to Tennesseans, 1.7 million households, for a full year. One month's electric bill for 20 million households. That is what we could do for $2 billion. If we were a little more creative, we might go to the metering that some utilities are now putting in homes and say: If your electric bill is $100, and you reduce your use of electricity by $20, we will match it by $20 and we will collect all that information in the utility. And as a result, you will get a $60 bill instead of a $100 bill each month -- instead of investing in more wind. Or you could use that money for clean coal power plants. The 2005 bill that Senator Bingaman and Senator Domenici worked on had a number of initiatives for nuclear, clean coal, IGCC, and a number of things that are underfunded. We don't have enough money for them. Well, if we don't have the money for those things -- which we decided by consensus in 2005 was the best way to create clean reliable electricity for a country that uses 25 percent of all the energy in the world -- if we didn't have the money in 2005, why don't we take this $28 billion over the next 10 years, or at least some of this $10 billion for wind, and put it in clean coal or these other areas? The PRESIDING OFFICER. One minute remains. Mr. ALEXANDER. I thank the Chair. Mr. President, I wanted the Senate to know that of the $28 billion, one-third of it goes to wind turbines. We have a national wind policy instead of a national energy policy. We will be spending $2 billion a year on wind subsidies. And there are many other wind subsidies in the Federal Government. You get bonds to build them, you get accelerated depreciation, and then there are the State subsidies. So I am suggesting there is too much wind, and a wiser use of at least half that $10 billion would be for conservation, efficiency, scrubbers, and other forms of energy that are reflected in the 2005 Energy bill.