PR – Calling the recent Senate debate over legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions a “missed opportunity,” the Chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest producer of wind and solar power urged prompt action to address the threat of global climate change in a speech today at the 2008 Florida Summit on Global Climate Change in Miami.
“Every day we delay, another 18 million tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, most of which will remain there for close to a century. And with every year of inaction, the carbon reductions needed to deal successfully with climate change become larger and harder to achieve,” said Lewis Hay, III, Chairman and CEO of FPL Group, Inc. “We need real leadership on climate change – leadership that looks at the challenge of ‘decarbonizing’ the 14 trillion dollar U.S. economy and says, ‘We can do this.’ Leadership that considers the consequences of inaction and says, ‘We must do this.’ Leadership that recognizes America’s obligation to set an example for other countries around the world and says, ‘We will do this.’”
FPL Group is one of the electric power industry’s strongest advocates for a mandatory, nationwide policy to place a price on carbon dioxide emissions. Hay has testified before Congress on his support for a national carbon fee as the most efficient and effective way to slow, stop and eventually reverse the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He has also expressed support for a cap-and-trade program that requires carbon emitters to bear the cost of their emissions rather than shift those costs onto society and incorporates appropriate price controls during the early transition years to minimize disruptions to the economy.
“The United States has been debating climate change at least since the first congressional hearings on the topic were held in the mid-1980s by a little-known Representative from Tennessee named Al Gore. More than 20 years later, it is time for the country to take meaningful action,” said Hay. “I want my grandchildren to think of carbon dioxide the same way my parents did – as a simple input to photosynthesis, not as a heat-trapping noose around the planet.”
Hay reiterated his support for a carbon fee and critiqued forms of cap-and-trade that would not adequately price carbon emissions. “Now I happen to believe that the simplest and most effective way to price carbon is with a continuously escalating fee – or a ‘tax’ as the big carbon emitters like to call it. Under a carbon fee that starts modestly and rises steadily over time, companies will find it more and more expensive to use dirty fuels,” Hay said.
In contrast, “Under any cap-and-trade program that would give away most of the allowances to emit carbon based on historical emissions, the biggest emitters – the very same companies that have seriously harmed our environment and done nothing to reduce their carbon footprint – could reap unearned windfall profits, just as has happened in parts of Europe. To put it bluntly: They would be paid to pollute, turning cap-and-trade into what I call ‘cap-and-evade.’”
Hay also used the occasion of the Climate Summit to announce a major expansion of solar power by Florida Power & Light Company. All told, FPL is proposing to build 110 megawatts of solar power in Florida – 75 megawatts of solar thermal, 10 megawatts of photovoltaic solar in partnership with NASA, and a 25 megawatt stand-alone photovoltaic solar field that will be the biggest in the world. This initiative represents an accelerated implementation schedule of the commitments the company made at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2007, which called for an initial 10 megawatt trial followed by the construction of 300 megawatts of solar power in Florida and 500 megawatts nationwide over seven years. With today’s announcement, FPL is meeting more than one-third of its Florida target in under a year.
Noting that opponents of legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions have argued that it would be too costly, Hay said, “If we do nothing to reduce the amount of CO2 pouring into the atmosphere, we are not avoiding the cost. We are simply pushing both the cost associated with the growing consequences of global warming and the future cost of CO2 reductions down the road, onto our children and grandchildren. And if we do take action, I am confident the cost will be far lower than projected. America’s economy is driven by a fierce entrepreneurial spirit. Tell a capitalist there’s money to be made in finding cost-effective CO2 reductions, and watch the market burst with cost-effective solutions.”
Hay noted that even though FPL Group produces more wind and solar power than any other company in the nation, those sources of energy form only part of the solution to climate change. “The unavoidable truth is that any serious effort to combat global climate change will be incomplete without more of the one energy source that is abundant, dependable, and 100 percent emissions-free: nuclear power,” Hay said. “The fact is, nuclear power is safe, dependable, low-cost and clean. It has been part of America’s electricity mix ever since the first commercial plant went online 60 years ago. Today, America derives only 20 percent of power from nuclear, which in my view represents a failure of imagination and a failure of political will.”
Hay concluded by expressing confidence that climate change will eventually be solved. “I refuse to believe that we are powerless to change the future. On the contrary, I believe that through commitment, effort and intelligence, we will not only come up with the right policy response to climate change, but that our innovation-driven economy will find the best technological solution to climate change – one that curbs emissions even as it controls costs. Some of us in the electric power industry are ready to lead the charge into a clean energy future. To those who stubbornly cling to a carbon-based past that cannot last, we kindly ask that you step out of the way,” Hay said.