Lights out, America?

The lights may soon go out in Washington, D.C. — and it could happen where you live, too.

"Electric power has already become painfully expensive in Washington and its suburbs. Now, local utilities, say, it could become something even worse: scarce," The Washington Post reported this week.

Maryland, for example, may face rolling blackouts as early as 2011 or 2012 on summer days. The core of the problem is that the region’s ability to meet its ever-increasing demand for electricity is being short-circuited by environmental activists who are doing everything they can to make it as difficult as possible to generate and transmit power.

"Environmental groups say the region should try harder to save energy before it goes out looking for more," the Post reported.

Stymied in their plans to build coal-burning power plants, American utilities are turning to natural gas to meet expected growth in demand, risking a new upward spiral in the price of that fuel

"The cheapest power plant out there is the one you never have to build," one activist told the Post. The euphemism the environmentalists use for this strategy is "conservation." But "rationing" is perhaps the most honest descriptor.

The environmentalists’ new tactic in their war against our meeting our basic energy needs focuses on coal-burning power plants, which are at the top of the list of carbon dioxide emitters.

"Increasing electricity almost inevitably leads to more global warming emissions," an activist told the Post. And the activists have used global warming fears to great effect. "Stymied in their plans to build coal-burning power plants, American utilities are turning to natural gas to meet expected growth in demand, risking a new upward spiral in the price of that fuel," The New York Times reported this week.

Since environmentalist-fomented opposition to coal plants is rising around the country — including a new policy by major banks Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley to discourage coal-plant construction — utility executives say they have little choice even though the boom in natural gas demand will send electricity prices even higher, according to The Times.

Once again, "environmental groups argue that utilities should focus on cutting demand for power, rather than building new capacity," The Times reported. One possible way out of the global warming-angle of this mess is to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions of power plants.

Although this column recently reported about the difficulty and expense of carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, the Bush administration nevertheless has been participating in a project called FutureGen, a futuristic, zero-emission power plant.

The federal government was slated to pay for 75 percent of FutureGen’s costs. But just last week the Department of Energy announced it was pulling out of FutureGen after costs skyrocketed from $800 million to $1.8 billion.

Undersecretary of Energy C.H. "Bud" Albright told FutureGen officials the agency wasn’t interested in "building Disneyland in some swamp in Illinois." With FutureGen off the drawing board, at least for now, there are no significant CCS projects ongoing in the United States — meaning that carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants won’t be captured in the foreseeable future.

Without a plan for CCS, environmental zealots then will be able to continue their anti-energy jihad against essentially defenseless coal-based electricity producers and their consumers.

Of course, coal-based electricity producers and consumers aren’t really defenseless. They could (gasp!) challenge the dubious notion that manmade carbon dioxide emissions drive global climate — click to view a video on this subject — rather than just accepting politically correct myths that have been rammed down their throats without, so far, meaningful opportunity for debate.

It’s an idea worth considering, especially given the apparent lack of understanding of the climate issue, even among those who aspire to be president.

In response to a question on global warming during the last Republican presidential debate before the Super Tuesday primaries, for example, Sen. John McCain declared, "I applaud [efforts] to try to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Now, suppose that [I am] wrong, and there’s no such thing as climate change. And we adopt these green technologies. … Then all we’ve done is give our kids a cleaner world."

But if we rush to blindly adopt greenhouse gas emission controls, we could disrupt energy markets and cause much economic harm. In real life, a poorer world tends to be a dirtier world.

Moreover, since carbon dioxide is a colorless and odorless gas that naturally makes up a very small part of our atmosphere and since manmade carbon dioxide is an exceedingly small part of total global carbon dioxide emissions, it’s hard to see how reducing emissions will make the world "cleaner."

McCain continued, "But suppose we do nothing … and we don’t eliminate this $400 billion dependence we have on foreign oil. Some of that money goes to terrorist organizations and also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Then what kind of a world have we given our children?"

Earth to McCain: U.S. coal-fired electricity doesn’t put a penny in the pockets of Middle East oil producers or terrorists. In fact, inexpensive coal-fired electricity could one day power vehicles so as to drastically cut down on gasoline use and the need for the oil imports that concern him. If we don’t have serious debate on these issues, the combination of unscrupulous anti-growth environmentalists and uninformed grandstanding politicians certainly will lead to lights out for America.