ACES cap-and-trade could up MU power plant costs

Critics say the bill would lead to job losses and rate hikes.
The MU power plant could be affected by the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill, which calls for a reduction in greenhouse gases, might result in rate hikes and job losses for the university.

As Congress returns from a recess mostly dominated by the health care debate, the U.S. Senate will take up another issue that could directly affect Columbia: cap-and-trade energy programs.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill calls for a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses by the year 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Critics say the changes needed to achieve such reductions would result in much higher electricity costs and job losses at power plants and affected business. One study by the National Association of Manufacturers estimates legislation like ACES would cost the state as many as 59,000 jobs and decrease the state's gross state product by up to $1.1 billion per year by 2020.

Although the cap-and-trade legislation has already passed in the house, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., has spent the August recess touring the state talking about the potential adverse effects of the bill in more than 50 town hall meetings. Luetkemeyer spokesman Paul Sloca said cap-and-trade legislation would greatly increase costs for Missourians.

"The cap-and-trade bill contains the most heinous tax increase in recent memory," Sloca said. "Every time a Missourian turns on a light or fills up their gas tank, it will cost them more."

According to 2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States, 84 percent of Missouri's electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants, such as the one on campus and 17 others around the state.

These plants would have to cut carbon emissions by using alternative fuels or buying energy "credits" from companies doing things to cancel out carbon emissions, such as planting more trees.

Sloca also said the Obama administration is planning to use revenue from taxes on new coal-fired plants and violations from existing ones to finance a national health care system, proposals for which are also being debated in the senate.

"The onerous taxes that are in this cap and trade legislation are going to prop up a $1 trillion plan for socialized medicine," Sloca said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has focused mostly on health care legislation over the break, but McCaskill spokeswoman Maria Speiser noted Wednesday that Senate cap-and-trade legislation is in the early stages of committee debate and could be significantly different from the House bill if it passes.

"There will likely be plenty of changes before it gets out of committee," Speiser said. "The devil is always in the details."

Campus Facilities spokeswoman Karlan Seville said in an e-mail MU's power plant has recently been testing and utilizing renewable biomass fuels, including various wood sources, grasses, agriculture residues and waste papers.

She said the power plant is expanding its use of renewable biomass fuel in its existing boilers and a project is underway to replace one of the plant's coal-fired boilers with a new boiler exclusively using biomass. This new boiler is expected to be operational mid-2012.

"Most biomass fuels are considered renewable because they release about the same amount of carbon during combustion as they absorbed during their growth," Seville said. "When biomass fuels are used to reduce fossil fuels, like coal, a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is realized."

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