By Maria Saporta
Southern Co. CEO David Ratcliffe does not see an energy bill or a cap-and-trade bill pass Congress during this session.
That’s what Ratcliffe said in response to a question raised after his talk to the Atlanta Kiwanis Club on Tuesday.
But Ratcliffe did seem to be more open to the idea of limiting CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions as a way of addressing global climate change.
“As a matter of public policy, there’s a need to deal with CO2 emissions,” Ratcliffe said, adding that the prevailing thought is that there’s “an association between CO2 and climate change, which is a global phenomenon.”
Ratcliffe then explained the idea of capping CO2 emissions but issuing permits to companies to allow them to emit defined amount of pollutants. Companies can then trade or transfer their allowances.
The theory is that the companies that can reduce emissions most cheaply will do so, which will reduce pollution at the lowest cost to society.
Ratcliffe said the cap-and-trade legislation is a “complex issue.”
The bill passed the U.S. House last year and is now under debate in the U.S. Senate.
“It’s a good start, but not at protecting the cost for consumers,” Ratcliffe said. “I doubt seriously that there are 60 votes in the Senate to pass this year.”
Of course, Southern Co., which generates more than half of its power from coal, one of the greatest contributors to CO2 emissions, has been resisting measures that it believes would significantly raise the cost to its customers.
But even Ratcliffe seemed to acknowledge that it’s only a matter of time before there is some kind of energy reform that would mandate the reduction of carbon emissions.
“We can move in that direction in reducing CO2, but it’s going to be very expensive,” Ratcliffe said.
And then he used that reasoning to justify investment in nuclear energy, saying “we need new nuclear.”
Southern is “moving forward” with two new nuclear plants at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.
“It will be the first nuclear facility built in this country in the past 30 years,” said Ratcliffe, who believes that the Southern Co. needs to invest in all modes of energy to meet increasing demand, including natural gas, nuclear, renewables and coal.
“We know we have a need that will grow,” Ratcliffe told Kiwanians. “What we are trying to do is achieve a common-sense cleaner footprint. At the end of the day, we need to keep the lights on. We are going to need more, and it’s going to cost more.”