The three Republican presidential candidates who are currently leading the polls convey very different views on an important issue: national energy policy. Take a look at what each has to say on their campaign websites:
Herman Cain: "... liberals continue to perpetuate the misunderstanding that the high energy consumption and conservation of our precious planet are at odds with one another. Liberals have forced excessive environmental regulations that have stifled our domestic energy production, and instead, forced American consumers to rely far too heavily upon foreign oil. In many cases, this oil comes from Middle Eastern countries, some of whom are not friendly to the U.S., who end up dictating the prices of our energy consumption. In return, Americans have seen no improvements in our environment or in the cleanliness of our air. We must expand our domestic energy resources by loosening government's grip responsibly. Alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric are certainly part of the solution long term, but private industry must take the lead for true innovation to be a bigger part of our future energy needs. Let the markets decide which forms of energy fuel our cars, heat our homes and which ones will keep America working."
Rick Perry: "...Texas has shown you don't need federal mandates to improve the environment or foster the next generation of energy technology. Diversifying the state's energy portfolio remains a priority for Perry. Texas already installed more wind power than any other state and is developing new transmission lines that will move more than 18,000 megawatts across the state - nearly as much as all other states' current capacity combined. The state is also looking to add new clean coal plants, which will capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions or use the carbon dioxide to increase production from Texas oil fields." (Perry's presidential website redirects energy issues to his gubernatorial website.)
Mitt Romney: "We need to lower the amount of energy we use and increase the supply of domestic energy sources. Government must be a partner, not an obstacle, in this effort. As President, Mitt Romney will facilitate the exploration and development of conventional fossil fuels, remove the regulatory hurdles that prevent the construction of nuclear power plants, and address market failures that prevent the adoption of new technologies."
All three candidates want to increase domestic oil production. One problem with their plan is, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA), that 98.4% of the world's proven reserves are located outside of the U.S.. So, if we were to take the candidates' recommendations and aggressively deplete our 1.6%, in a very short time, we would be back buying oil from foreign reserves.
A second problem is that a significant amount of the nation's reserves is locked in costly basins, such as deep water and tar sands. The cost to produce this oil is expensive and those costs will drive domestic oil prices higher. The nation needs access to the least expensive sources of energy, which may come from places such as Canada.
These three candidates also offer different ideas about other forms of energy. Mr. Cain wants to establish free markets for the private sector to address power production. The problem Cain has is that several states, including most southern states, disagree with his approach. They want their utility commissions to decide which resources will be built. For example, Cain's home state of Georgia and the Southern Company (SO) decided they wanted new nuclear power capacity. So the state and the utility, not the free market, set out to build new units at Georgia's Vogtle facility. South Carolina and SCANA (SCG) made similar decisions. Florida, Progress Energy (PGN) and NextEra Energy (NEE) are also making non-market decisions about nuclear and solar power. Mr. Cain's market idea pre-empts states' rights to make their own decisions.
Meanwhile, Perry is arguing that diversifying the state's energy portfolio is an important goal. He is right, and it should be a goal for the nation. However, as he spurns "federal mandates," his state's wind power program came with federal support. The federal taxpayer subsidized the construction of his wind plants and the same taxpayers subsidize almost every wind-powered watt produced in his state.
Last, Romney appears to be unaware that America's utilities cannot afford new nuclear power plants. While regulation may be a barrier, the primary factor preventing Romney's nuclear renaissance is capital costs; new nuclear plants cost more than the market value of most utilities.
Jobs are the national priority. But candidates need to fully understand energy policy or the nation will continue repeating the mistakes of the past.