Energizing the future: CEOs debate solutions to America’s energy crisis

The CEOs of one of the country’s largest utilities and one of the largest suppliers of natural gas agreed that America needs a bridge to cleaner sources of energy, but disagreed on what that bridge should be, during the opening session of Wake Forest’s energy conference on Wednesday.

“Let natural gas ramp up and you’re taking a big step to declaring that we have a plan to reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil,” said Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. “It’s a cheaper American product that can form the bridge into a cleaner energy future, while at the same time creating jobs and saving Americans billions of dollars.”

New methods to access additional supplies of natural gas through deep shale gas drilling make natural gas a “game changer” in addressing future energy needs, he said. “We didn’t know how to extract that from the ground until the last few years. We have developed in the last five years the equivalent of twice the amount of energy resources that Saudi Arabia has. Through this new abundance, we can begin to think about everything differently.”

McClendon and Duke Energy’s James Rogers spoke to a large audience in Brendle Recital Hall to kick off the two-day conference, “Energizing the Future.” The conference has brought together energy experts, business leaders, entrepreneurs and scholars to discuss energy problems and lay the groundwork for solutions. The conference concludes Thursday night.

“We need to build a bridge to a low carbon world, and it’s critical for our company to lead on this,” said Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, the third largest producer of electricity in the country. “I’m agnostic about which method provides this so long as it’s affordable, reliable and clean.”

Rogers said that Duke Energy is already the third largest producer of carbon-free electricity in the country. In the next 40 years, Duke Energy must close or replace every power plant it owns, he said, and is building a balance of coal, gas and nuclear plants and investing in wind and solar technologies.

It’s too big a gamble to rely entirely on a strategy built around natural gas, he said, because of price volatility and the inability to secure long-term contracts with natural gas providers. “Shale gas is seen as the great savior in terms of energy use, but there’s a lot not known about it yet.”

McClendon said America’s shale-supplied natural gas is widely available and has about half the carbon output of coal and oil. And our reliance on foreign sources of oil — 13 million barrels a day are imported — undermines our national security and is not sustainable, he said.

Both Rogers and McClendon called for a bipartisan legislative effort that addresses energy and environmental issues together. McClendon argued for a “Cash for Clunkers” program that would replace 20 percent of the country’s oldest, coal-powered plants with natural gas plants.

“I believe very strongly that we need a comprehensive energy and environment bill,” Rogers said. “The right kind of legislation could stimulate the economy and create jobs.”

Categories: National, Sustainability