CBS: Gulf Oil Spill An 'Opportunity' to Push Green Energy on 'Power-Hungry' America

Power Hungry Graphic, CBS At the top of CBS's Sunday Morning, host Charles Osgood proclaimed: "From sky-high air-conditioning bills to gasoline-fueled vacations in the car, there's nothing like summer to remind us that we Americans are power hungry." In the story that followed later, correspondent Seth Doane declared: "In the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, calls for cleaner, greener energy, are growing louder."

Doane lamented: "America is still powered by the energy of yesterday. 95% of our electricity comes from an aging network of coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric plants. Despite decades of promise, today less than 5% of our electricity comes from all other forms of alternative energy combined." He then turned to "Nobel Prize-winning physicist" and Obama administration energy secretary, Dr. Steven Chu: "Secretary Chu sees the oil spill as a tragedy, of course, but also as something else." Chu argued: "The United States has an opportunity to lead in what I consider to be essentially a new industrial revolution."

After detailing different forms of alternative energy, Doane moved on to liberal advocacy. He warned:"But agreeing on a national energy policy won't be easy....And the coal and petroleum lobbies spend millions to protect the status quo." Doane then cited the head of the left-wing group Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp, who whined: "You know, we've passed three energy bills in the last ten years and none of them has done a damn thing to get us a brighter energy future."           

Doane promoted cap and trade legislation stalled in Congress as the only solution: "[Krupp] hopes that this fall, the Senate will consider a landmark climate and energy bill, which could finally give alternative energy a fighting chance by setting tough pollution limits on power plants." Krupp asserted: "That simple requirement, that pollution would come down dramatically over the years, would be the biggest boost for renewable energy because it creates a level playing field that says however you produce electricity, we're going to require you to produce it without dumping the smut into the sky."

Echoing Krupp's talking points, Doane explained: "That level playing field is price. Forcing coal producers to clean up their plants will drive up costs which, in turn, will bring alternative energy prices more in line." Doane never addressed the issue of this leading to higher energy prices in a tough economy.  

Doane touted how "The bill is a priority for President Obama, who's visited a solar station in Florida...A hi-tech battery facility in Michigan, and recently taken a spin in a new car, one that has a lot riding on it." At that point, he promoted General Motor's first electric car, the Chevy Volt. While Doane cheered "hopes this electric car will finally take the edge off America's appetite for oil," he failed to mention the exorbitant $41,000 price tag for the vehicle.

In concluding his report, Doane lectured: "Whether it's electric cars, wind, or solar energy; while Washington debates, inventors and investors wait for a signal this country is really getting serious about clean, renewable energy."

Here is a full transcript of the August 15 segment:
9:00AM ET TEASE

CHARLES OSGOOD: From sky-high air-conditioning bills to gasoline-fueled vacations in the car, there's nothing like summer to remind us that we Americans are power hungry. The search for alternative green sources of energy is going full speed ahead as Seth Doane will be reporting in our cover story.

9:05AM ET SEGMENT

CHARLES OSGOOD: How can we feed our power-hungry nation far into the future? Seth Doane explores some possible answers in our Sunday Morning cover story.

SETH DOANE: Imagine a future in which abundant energy could be ours, simply by harnessing the wind, or capturing sunlight, or tapping into the heat of the Earth itself. In the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, calls for cleaner, greener energy, are growing louder.

BARACK OBAMA: Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

DOANE: But if that rallying cry sounds strangely familiar that's because it is.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our-

BILL CLINTON: To encourage innovation, renewable energy, fuel-efficient cars, energy-

RICHARD NIXON: We will break the back of the energy crisis. We will lay the foundation-

DOANE: For all the talk about the energy of tomorrow, America is still powered by the energy of yesterday. 95% of our electricity comes from an aging network of coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric plants. Despite decades of promise, today less than 5% of our electricity comes from all other forms of alternative energy combined.

DR. STEVEN CHU: As a scientist, I've asked myself what is the most challenging problem that science and technology has got to solve in the coming decades? It's going to be sustainable energy. If we can't solve that, we've got a real problem.

DOANE: Perhaps no one understands the problem better than Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and the U.S. Secretary of Energy.

CHU: To quench our thirst for oil, we're going to more and more challenging environments. It's going to drive the price up. It's going to have higher risks, environmental risks.

DOANE: Secretary Chu sees the oil spill as a tragedy, of course, but also as something else.

CHU: I think it's an opportunity to say, look, let's look long term: where do you want to go? Where do you want to be?

DOANE: You think this oil spill is an opportunity?

CHU: The United States has an opportunity to lead in what I consider to be essentially a new industrial revolution.

DOANE: Innovators and entrepreneurs are already pushing the envelope to come up with the energy of the future. Things like torpedo-shaped machines which collect energy from wave motion; turbines like these placed on the bottom of New York's East River, driven by the current.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm here in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where we're creating the future of energy.

DOANE: And algae farms, which convert the fast-growing plant into diesel and jet fuel.

CHU: It is absolutely an engine for growth, for job creation, for all these things.

DOANE: And the U.S. isn't too far behind already – behind China, behind India?

CHU: We can catch up. But another five years of stalling, I'm a little bit afraid.

DOANE: Increasingly, China is taking the lead – planning to spend $450 billion to develop alternative energy. But it was once the U.S. that was the pioneer.

MIKE ROGERS: We've been operating up here since 1960, so the guys are just coming up on 50 years of continuous geothermal power production.

DOANE: California's Sonoma Valley is world famous for its vineyards, but beneath these hills, it's hardly tranquil. There's a huge, natural reservoir of steam trapped deep below the surface.

ROGERS: We're using the heat of – the heat of the earth. That's what the word geothermal means is heat of the earth.

DOANE: Mike Rogers is with the Calpine Corporation, which runs The Geysers – the largest complex of geothermal plants in the world. In the hills north of San Francisco, wells two miles deep are drilled through bedrock, and 90 miles of pipes weave in and out of the mountains, carrying the natural steam to power the turbines.

ROGERS: In terms of size, The Geysers provides enough power for about a city of the size of San Francisco.

DOANE: And it's clean energy. Calpine claims their plants emit just one twentieth of the pollution of a coal-fired plant. While geothermal plants are best suited to unique regions where the earth's crust is thin, there's another resource in this country that's far more accessible – wind.

PATRICK WOODSON: When we first started looking at this site, I mean, it was just basically cotton fields as far as the eye could see.

DOANE: In the tiny West Texas town of Roscoe – where oil rigs once dotted the landscape – there's a new energy boom.

WOODSON: This is the biggest wind farm in the world. It encompasses more than 85,000 acres. And – and geographically it's bigger than the actual city of Manhattan.

DOANE: Patrick Woodson's in charge of development for EON Energy. There are 627 turbines in their wind farm, each can power between 300 and 650 homes. From a distance, it's hard to appreciate just how enormous these turbines are. This one is 40 stories high and the blades from tip-to-tip are nearly the length of a football field. The United States is the world leader in wind energy, and while it's still relatively expensive to produce, with new technology, costs are coming down.

WOODSON: We're just tapping into the – the very beginnings of the potential with wind. I mean, you know, Texas gets about 7% of its energy from wind power. Nationally, we're – we're less than 3%.

DOANE: For wind being one of the biggest sources of renewable energy today, it – it's still only producing 3% of our energy. That's not much.

WOODSON: Well, it's not. We need a national policy to really give us some direction on where we're going to go.

DOANE: But agreeing on a national energy policy won't be easy. Not everyone likes the idea of giant windmills or solar arrays dominating the horizon. Geothermal plants can cause minor earthquakes. And the coal and petroleum lobbies spend millions to protect the status quo.

FRED KRUPP: You know, we've passed three energy bills in the last ten years and none of them has done a damn thing to get us a brighter energy future.

DOANE: Fred Krupp heads the Environmental Defense Fund. He hopes that this fall, the Senate will consider a landmark climate and energy bill, which could finally give alternative energy a fighting chance by setting tough pollution limits on power plants.

KRUPP: That simple requirement, that pollution would come down dramatically over the years, would be the biggest boost for renewable energy because it creates a level playing field that says however you produce electricity, we're going to require you to produce it without dumping the smut into the sky.

DOANE: That level playing field is price. Forcing coal producers to clean up their plants will drive up costs which, in turn, will bring alternative energy prices more in line. The bill is a priority for President Obama, who's visited a solar station in Florida.

BARACK OBAMA: These are jobs in the industries of the future.

DOANE: A hi-tech battery facility in Michigan, and recently taken a spin in a new car, one that has a lot riding on it. General Motors hopes that what's under the hood of this car is the future. This is the Chevrolet Volt, the first mass-market electric car ever produced in the United States.

ANDREW FARAH: These are packs for the Volt.

DOANE: Andrew Farah is the chief engineer of the Volt, which hits showrooms in November. He hopes this electric car will finally take the edge off America's appetite for oil. How many miles to a gallon can I expect to get if I drive a Volt?

FARAH: Well that all depends on how far you drive every day. If you drive under 40 miles a day, you get unlimited, or infinite miles per gallon.

DOANE: That's because GM designed the Volt to get 40 miles on a single charge, based on government statistics that show nearly 80% of Americans drive fewer than 40 miles per day; and when the battery runs out, it automatically switches to gasoline. What do you say to people at home who think, 'my gosh, I've heard of this electric car business before, it never really took off'?

FARAH: What I say is you heard about the electric car that was only able to do a very limited thing. And now with the Volt, you're going to hear about an electric car that can do everything that you're used to.

DOANE: Silent. You don't hear a thing. Whether it's electric cars, wind, or solar energy; while Washington debates, inventors and investors wait for a signal this country is really getting serious about clean, renewable energy.

KRUPP: Surely the world is going to demand clean sources of energy. We don't want to be stuck importing these devices just as we're now stuck importing most of the oil the country uses. That's our choice.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC