Speeches & Floor Statements

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

Posted on June 12, 2007

Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Colorado for his courtesy in arranging for me to speak next. The Senator from Colorado and I and the Senator from New Mexico, Mr. Bingaman, who is here, the chairman of the Energy Committee, Senator Domenici, the ranking member, and Senator Lieberman, who has already spoken, were at breakfast this morning at our usual Tuesday morning bipartisan breakfast. And Senator Bingaman expressed the hope, as I am sure he will on the Senate floor when he speaks, that we can make the kind of progress this year that we made 2 years ago on the Energy bill. And I hope so too. He talked about how difficult it was and how impressive it was for four committees, plus the Finance Committee, all to make a contribution and how we might be able to make progress with alternative fuels, with energy efficiency. The more we learn about energy efficiency, such as with appliances and lighting, and the more we can do in accelerating research on how to recapture carbon, the better off we will be. Earlier this morning, Senator Lieberman of Connecticut said in that spirit of bipartisanship that he hoped one amendment would not be added to this bill, and that would be an amendment calling for the drilling for oil in the Alaska wildlife area. That is a controversial piece of legislation. I want to make a similar suggestion in the spirit of bipartisanship. I note my friend from New Mexico is on the Senate floor, and I hope the Senate would not agree to and maybe we would not even have to debate, the amendment that Senator Bingaman offered before in the last Congress and which he plans to offer again which would require a 15-percent so-called renewable portfolio standard in every State. I wish to spend a few minutes this morning talking about why I believe it is important that we not adopt that amendment. I am reminded of a story about a Tennessee mountaineer who was convicted of murder, and the judge sentenced him and told him his choice was to be hanged or be shot. The defendant thought a minute and said: May I ask a question, judge? The judge said: Of course. My question is, Do I have another choice? Mr. President, we Tennesseans feel the same way about Senator Bingaman's proposed renewable portfolio standard which would require us to make 15 percent of our electricity from renewable fuels, mostly wind power. That would raise our taxes, it would raise our electric rates, it would run away jobs, and it would ruin our mountaintops. That is not the kind of choice we like to have. Forcing Tennesseans to build 40-story wind turbines on our pristine mountaintops or pay billions of dollars in penalty taxes to the Federal Government amounts to a judge giving a defendant the choice of being hanged or shot. In Tennessee, the wind simply doesn't blow enough to produce much electric power. Residential homeowners cannot afford these new taxes, industries will take their jobs to States with cheaper power, and tourists will spend their dollars where they can see the mountaintops instead of giant wind turbines. There is, in this case, a better choice, fortunately, and that choice is for clean, reasonably priced energy in the Tennessee Valley from conservation and efficiency, from nuclear reactors -- a new one of which just opened within the last few weeks in our region by TVA -- and by clean coal. Because of its nuclear and hydro plants, Tennessee is already on the honor roll, ranking 16th among States in production of carbon-free electricity. But we are one of 27 States that would not meet the standards under Senator Bingaman's amendment, which he expects to offer during this debate. This is real money. The Tennessee Valley Authority suggests that by the last year that this new standard is in effect, it would cost Tennesseans at least 410 million new dollars a year. What could we do with that kind of money? If the goal were clean air, we could give away 205 million in $2 fluorescent lightbulbs per year, producing energy savings equal to the combined output of almost two of the three units of TVA's Browns Ferry nuclear plant. In other words, the $410 million could buy enough fluorescent lightbulbs to equal two nuclear reactors. Or the $410 million would be the equivalent of 3,700 megawatt wind turbines that would span a 550-mile ridge line, more than twice the distance from Bristol in the northeast part of Tennessee to Chattanooga, which is about the only place in Tennessee that wind power could actually go, along those ridgetops. Or with $410 million, we could pay the $100 per month electric bill for Tennessee's 2.5 million residential TVA customers for 1 1/2 months each year. Or if the goal is simply clean air, it would be better, I respectfully submit, to spend the $410 million purchasing one new scrubber each 9 months to clean emissions from TVA's coal-fired powerplants. I strongly back renewable power wherever it makes sense. In our State, I have worked hard to expand solar energy. The solar energy industry gave me an award last year for that work. I was the principal sponsor of the tax credit for homeowners to put solar panels on their homes. I have worked with the Tennessee Farm Bureau to encourage the use of biomass as a renewable energy. But this -- and I will try to be a little bit more specific in the next 10 or 12 minutes -- this proposal amounts to a wind portfolio standard which simply does not fit the Tennessee Valley nor, I submit, any other part of our region. It simply does not work in the Southeast. Why is there a wind portfolio standard? There are other forms of renewable energy, of course, but they don't all fit in the definition, nor do all types of clean, carbon-free energy fit within the definition. Seventy percent of our carbon-free electricity in America comes from nuclear power. About 33 percent of TVA's power is carbon-free nuclear power. That doesn't count within the Bingaman definition. Neither does the existing 7 percent of clean, completely clean power that comes from hydro, from dams. That makes about 40 percent of TVA’s electricity carbon, sulfur, mercury, and nitrogen free, ranking it 16th among all the States in terms of producing carbon-free energy. As I said, Tennessee is on the honor roll. Yet we Tennesseans would still be subjected either to these taxes or putting these wind turbines along our scenic mountains, which I will discuss. According to the Energy Information Agency assessment of the Bingaman proposal, 4 years ago, wind and, to a lesser extent, biomass are projected to be the most important renewable resources stimulated by the renewable portfolio standard. There is some other evidence that biomass will be stimulated, but I think it is a fair comment to say that this is mostly a wind portfolio standard. And my argument is, that may be fine in North Dakota -- which the Senator from North Dakota says is the Saudi Arabia of wind -- maybe it works there, and maybe North Dakotans want to see the wind turbines there, but it doesn't work in Tennessee and in most of the Southeast because the wind simply doesn't blow enough to produce much electricity. The National Academy of Sciences says 93 percent of potential wind energy capacity occurs west of the Mississippi River. We can see on this chart that in this white area, that is where there is the least amount of wind. There may be plenty of it somewhere else but not in Tennessee and not in the South. There is only one wind farm in this entire southeastern part of the United States. That is a TVA wind farm on Buffalo Mountain, which I will show in just a moment. TVA had hoped that the wind on Buffalo Mountain would blow to produce electricity about 35 to 38 percent of the time. They have been disappointed that it only blows about 19 to 24 percent of the time. And in August, when we are sitting on the porches sweating, perspiring, and wanting our fans on and air-conditioning on, the winds on the only wind farm in the southeast – Buffalo Mountain – blew just 7 percent of the time. That is not an estimate. That is an actual count from TVA and the wind farm. So the only places in the southeast region, if we can go to the next chart, that have wind resources are the ridges and the crests. Maybe unlike Iowa and North Dakota where they can have large wind farms, maybe even in Colorado they can have large wind farms, but in Tennessee, the only places that wind possibly works are on the ridges and the crests. In addition to being the places with the most wind, the ridges and the crests are also in the most visited national park in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Those are the highest mountains in the Eastern United States. They run up through Pennsylvania as well. They are the Great Smoky Mountains and the mountains around them. They are the reason most of us live in those areas. It is quite a sight to see when you put wind turbines on top of those mountains. It is a sight that I would rather not see. Here is West Virginia, which is north of the southeastern part of the United States. Basically it cuts off the whole tops of those mountains. In my opinion, it makes strip mining look like a decorative art. These are 400- or 300-feet turbines. These are not your grandmother's windmills. They are white and large and have flashing red lights on top of them. You can see them for 10, 12, 14 miles away. Then, since they are on remote ridgetops, they have to dig large power lines down through whomever's backyard to get there. It is quite a dislocation in the scenery. So one would think there would have to be a big payoff before we would take some of the most beautiful parts of the United States and basically ruin the mountaintops. Here is what it looks like in Tennessee. You can get a little sense of how big these turbines are. In Tennessee, we like football and we can put things in perspective, sometimes putting things in football terms. Each of these wind turbines is twice as tall as the skyboxes at Neyland Stadium, which is the second largest football stadium in the United States. Penn State has one, I guess, about the same size. These rotor blades, which go round and round, stretch from the 10-yard line to the 10-yard line. I can see these turbines from the Pellissippi Parkway in Tennessee from about 14 miles away. This is at about 3,500 feet. These are some of our most beautiful vistas in Tennessee. The problem is, even here, which ought to be a prime spot -- this is the reason TVA put the turbines here -- it didn't work very well. It was a disappointment. As I mentioned, in August, the wind turbines only operated 7 percent of the time. Wind tends to be strongest during the winter months and at dawn and dusk, but demand for electricity is highest during the summer and during the day. Basically, when we need the wind, it doesn't blow. And a point that many people often miss is that you can't store it. Unlike more conventional forms of power, you use it or you lose it. So it is of minimal help. Also, it is more expensive. I have a chart showing the expense. Let's take nuclear power which produces 70 percent of the carbon-free electricity in the United States today, and wind, which is also carbon free. Actually, both are completely free of carbon, sulfur, mercury, and nitrogen, which are the problems for clean air in the Tennessee region. Let's compare a 1,000-watt nuclear plant reactor and a 1,000-megawatt capacity wind farm. The 1,000-megawatts is about the size of a new nuclear reactor. The new Browns Ferry plant in Tennessee that opened the other day is 1,280 megawatts. This column is the number of hours per year for both nuclear and wind. And this second column is the capacity factor. In plain English, this is how much they operate. For TVA, its nuclear powerplants, which produce about one-third of our electricity and most of our carbon-free electricity, the nuclear powerplants operate 92 percent of the time. The wind turbines operate, at best, 24 percent of the time in the Southeast, in the area we know about. Remember, there is only one wind farm in the Southeast. We have it, and that is what it does. The cost of electricity is up to twice as much for wind over nuclear. That is what people in the utility industry call the all-in cost -- that is, including the cost of building the facility and the cost of operating the facility. So the brief analysis is that wind is more expensive, on a per unit energy generated basis, and produces much less energy than nuclear power, for example. In addition to that, if we build the wind turbines, we still have to build and operate the nuclear powerplant because, as we pointed out, the wind turbines only operate about 22 percent of the time. My hope would be that we would not have a one-size-fits-all national mandate on States that are seeking to create clean energy. Tennessee wants to do its part. As I said, nuclear power creates 70 percent of the carbon-free energy in the United States. It produces 33 percent of the carbon-free energy in the Tennessee Valley through TVA, and TVA just opened a new reactor and they are planning more. Why would we impose on a State which is already leading the country in terms of helping to produce clean energy, carbon-free energy -- why would we impose a mandate on that State that would raise its rates or impose new taxes and drive away jobs from industries that cannot afford to pay the higher rates and at the same time put on our mountain tops, from Bristol to Chattanooga, these huge wind machines that destroy the view? We have 10 million people every year who come to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nearly three times as many as come to Yellowstone. They come to see the mountains; they don't come to see the wind turbines. I guarantee, if we continue to provide incentives and mandates to put up these 300-, 400-, 500-foot-tall wind turbines with red flashing lights, that is all the visitors will see when they come to Tennessee. They will not be able to see anything else. I am eager to work with Senators Bingaman and Domenici on the Energy bill. I had the pleasure, the last 4 years, of serving with them on that committee. I admire the way they work together. They made a point 2 years ago of saying that when we go too far in either direction, we will pull back a little bit so we can make sure we have a good, strong bill. I believe the bill in 2005 was underestimated. I believe the bill produced in 2005, produced by Senators Domenici and Bingaman and the Senate working with the House, literally set America on a different course in terms of producing large amounts of reliable, affordable, clean energy. It helped us do that in a way that would keep the costs of natural gas down, which was very important to us at that time and still is today. I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a letter from the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners expressing the same views I have just expressed, that such a mandate would cause us to end up paying higher electric prices with nothing to show for it. I ask unanimous consent that it be printed in the Record following my remarks. Finally, I would like to reiterate what we could better do with the money. I see the Senator from North Dakota here. I mentioned a little earlier that he has said North Dakota is the Saudi Arabia of wind, and I admire North Dakota for that, I admire him for his outspoken advocacy of that, and I hope all the giant wind machines go to North Dakota. That is where I would like them to be, just not in Tennessee -- not just because of how they look but because in our neck of the woods they do not work. They raise our taxes, or they raise our rates, or they destroy our mountains, or they run away jobs from industries and tourists who do not want to be part of that. I would rather see us look for better ways to spend those dollars. As I suggested earlier, we could take the same amount of money we would be taxed, if we choose not to build these, by providing 205 million $2 light bulbs, which would be the equivalent energy savings of almost 2 nuclear reactors, or it would be the equivalent of 3,700 of these wind turbines, which would run along the ridge tops from Bristol to Chattanooga, or it would pay the monthly electric bill for Tennessee’s 2.5 million TVA residential customers, every Tennessee residential customer, for a month and a half, or it would put a new scrubber on TVA's coal-fired powerplants every 9 month period. I am afraid this is an idea looking for a problem to solve. It may solve it in North Dakota, it might solve it in New Mexico and perhaps it does in Colorado, but it does not in Tennessee. It raises our taxes, raises our rates, ruins our mountains, and it sends jobs away, runs them away. I hope, in a spirit of bipartisanship, perhaps the Senator from New Mexico, one of our most thoughtful Senators, the leader of this debate, will decide there are other things we can focus on rather than a one-size-fits-all mandate which may work in some States but does not in my State.