I sat down yesterday with J. Wayne Leonard, the New Orleans-based CEO of Entergy and the latest utility executive to get on the climate-change train. Leonard, native to my state, ravaged both by Katrina and by the petroleum industry, waxed sincere about the need for strict cap-and-trade and 100% auction of allowances, as he wrote in The New York Times last month. “We can’t eliminate the risk to your generation,” he told me. “We have two degrees of warming already in the pipeline. The best we can do is reduce the risk of catastrophic effects–keep it down to 20% instead of 80%.”
Where Leonard departs from environmental correctness is in his denigration of a renewable portfolio standard–a mandated percentage of renewable energy, which exists already in several states–in favor of funding research into clean coal. Entergy has partnered with researchers at MIT on several demonstration projects. The integrated energy company plans to ask the Department of Energy for funding to build a full-scale plant, even though it relies largely on nuclear and natural gas.
The activist attitude towards still-nascent, and extremely expensive, carbon capture and sequestration technologies is summed up in the chant heard at the Capitol last week: “Unicorns, leprechauns, clean coal!” But one point Leonard made stuck with me. “China has two million megawatts of coal production. Billions in sunk capital. Are they going to shut that down voluntarily? Not unless carbon goes to $150 a ton. Are we going to make them shut it down?”