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Truth Test: Energy Issues

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WTHR.com is putting campaign ads to the test this election season. To see other Truth Tests, click here.

Indianapolis - While the struggling economy currently dominates the news, environmental issues are also making headlines.

Forbes ranked Indiana second to last in its 2007 "America's Greenest States" ranking. The Hoosier state also had the sixth highest carbon footprint.

Gov. Mitch Daniels is tying green energy into job creation in a new campaign ad. His site touts many environmental areas in which his first term succeeded, including renewable resources, biofuels, clean coal technologies, alternative power and energy programs, and energy savings and conservation. Daniels' ad addresses three types of green energy which he claims will contribute to a "green energy revolution."

Wind Power

The Governor says that he strives "...to make Indiana a leader in wind power..." The first of two phases of construction of the largest wind farm in the state and the second largest wind farm in the country is underway in Benton County.

When completed, the wind farm is expected to provide emission-free power to about 200,000 households. BP Alternative Energy notes that the wind farm will provide "substantial benefits to the community, including new sources of revenue to local landowners, providers of goods and services, and taxing bodies." The wind farm will create jobs, as phase one of construction requires 350 workers and monitoring and maintaining the wind farm will require 12 workers.

Even renewable energy has downsides, though, including fossil fuel input required for construction, aesthetic concerns, and hazards to humans and wildlife related to construction and maintenance. The Citizen's Action Coalition (CAC) of Indiana website discusses "the benefits of wind" and discredits "wind energy myths," saying that wind power is less expensive than alternatives and emission-free, and any drawbacks are insignificant.

The Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) welcomes wind power, but HEC Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda asserts that both gubernatorial candidates need to support a Renewable Electricity Standard that the state of Indiana currently lacks in order to attract more investment in renewable energy. The HEC calls for a "strong renewable energy policy" in order to create more "Hoosier homegrown energy."

According to her "One Indiana Plan," Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson sees this wind farm as a "great achievement," but she calls for the growth of more wind farms and for wind farm equipment to be produced in Indiana.

Biofuels

Governor Daniels wants to make Indiana a leader in biofuels, which he terms "the green energy of tomorrow." When the world's largest soy-diesel plant opened in Claypool, he remarked that "the sky's the limit for biofuels." The company behind the new plant issued a press release stating that biodiesel technology is "contributing to America's national energy independence and can immediately begin to address the country's energy security issues."

On the coalition's website, CAC Executive Director Grant Smith notes the downsides to this development: "Using essentially the food supply to make liquid fuel for vehicles doesn't make economic sense. It is not a sustainable option. It can only be done...with massive taxpayer subsidies."

The HEC believes that Indiana needs to shift the focus away from "continued incentives for corn-based ethanol and traditional soy-based biodiesel" and towards "higher environmentally performing alternative fuels by funding cellulosic feedstock research and pilot programs."

In Long Thompson's "One Indiana Plan," she states that, "...we need to significantly increase our investment in renewable energy resources  like biofuels..." She also stated her support for biofuels in a fashion quite similar to Daniels: "...the potential for biofuels is nearly
limitless..."

Clean Coal

The third development that the Governor discusses is the world's first clean coal power plant in Edwardsport, Indiana, which is slated for completion by 2012. The plant will provide electricity with reduced emissions, but it comes with the hefty pricetag of more than $2.3 billion.

Proponents justify clean coal plants with the facts that coal is relatively abundant and cheap. The new plant will emit significantly less carbon dioxide than the existing plant and will receive substantial tax incentives to offset customer costs, which could increase approximately 16% between 2008 and 2013.

While it is progress towards the ideal of zero emissions, this plant still burns coal and will have some polluting emission. In an article posted on the CAC website, Grant Smith says, "The public understands that going forward with construction of the Edwardsport coal gasification plant would be a financial disaster for ratepayers and an ecological travesty. It is simply unethical and irresponsible for Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers to pursue completion of the Edwardsport plant due to extravagant costs to ratepayers in these difficult economic times, the lack of any technology that can control carbon dioxide emissions, and the availability of cheaper, cleaner options that can easily meet electric demand in Duke's monopoly territory and create many more jobs than a coal plant."

Smith notes that drawbacks include construction costs, necessary government loan guarantees, taxpayer-financed subsidies, and the fact that clean coal technology involving sequestration probably will not be viable for at least a decade.

Despite the argument that coal is cheap, Smith contends that coal is not necessarily cheaper due to the expensive coal-burning plants and the increasing price of coal. In response to the general argument that coal could be part of the solution to energy problems, he said that "...could not be farther from the truth."

The coalition, whose website states that, "There is no such thing as 'clean coal,'" cites public opinion polling numbers that they assert indicate that the majority of Hoosiers do not support the Edwardsport plant and want to pursue greener energy production.

The HEC offers similar sentiments, calling the plant a "multi-billion bet." They recommend "aggressively diversifying to non-carbon resources, like energy efficiency, combined heat and power, wind energy, and in some cases, solar." The group cites the same concerns as the CAC, including ratepayer price increases for "a very risky technology that, at the present time, has no way of sequestering carbon dioxide."

The Sierra Club's Hoosier Chapter Executive Committee Chair Bill Hayden said, "We owe it to our children to move beyond coal and invest in smarter, cleaner, healthier energy options." Both the CAC and Sierra Club appealed the air permit that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved for the power plant.

In her "One Indiana Plan," however, Thompson states that, "I believe it is in Indiana's best interest to further progress in developing clean coal technologies."

21st Century Jobs

In his campaign commercial, Daniels comments that, "To make energy more affordable, we need more from every source." Smith of the CAC contends, however, that increased efficiency in exploiting the current sources, more so than conservation of power usage, is imperative: "...if we were using resources efficiently (i.e. electricity), new baseload, electric generating plants would be off the table entirely, we would be attracting 21st century businesses..."

Smith believes that comprehensive energy efficiency could "flatline electric demand and maybe even drive it down," as energy efficiency is the cheapest energy source. He clarifies what constitutes a 21st century job, which is important to consider since Governor Daniels has touted his success with job creation, especially in the manufacturing sector. Smith explains that a 21st century job pays a decent wage and utilizes green practices like distributed power, power electronics, and battery storage technology.

Jill Long Thompson's campaign addresses similarily-defined 21st century jobs in her "One Indiana Plan," which aims to "...create high-paying 'green' jobs making our communities stronger and more vibrant." This will provide both short-term benefits in terms of economic development and long-term benefits in terms of a cleaner environment. Thompson says that Indiana needs to harness its "clean energy potential" and investment in clean energy could result in massive job creation.

With the struggling economy on the minds of most people, it remains to be seen how each of the gubernatorial candidate's environmental policies will shape voter preference on election day.