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NEWSROOM for May 29, 2001: Powering the Planet

Aired May 29, 2001 - 04:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Energy: How much do we use? How much do we need? Are fossil fuels running out? If so, what are the alternatives? Can global warming be stopped? What are you willing to do? Those are the questions. Today, we search for the answers in "Powering the Planet," a CNN NEWSROOM special report with Tom Haynes.

TOM HAYNES, HOST: Hello and welcome to this NEWSROOM special edition: "Powering the Planet."

I'm Tom Haynes inside the power grid at Georgia Power. Here they monitor power transmissions across the state of Georgia to basically make sure the lights stay on. During the next half hour, we're going to take a look at how we use energy, the potential impact energy consumption can have on the environment and some of the alternatives to using traditional energy sources.


(voice-over): From the batteries in your CD player to the gas in your car, energy is a fundamental part of our everyday lives. Energy flows through the environment in living things converted to forms we can use to grow and sustain ourselves. Energy is essential to life. And as the world's population increases, so does our demand for energy. Consider this: Little more than a 100 years ago, there were about 1.5 billion people on planet Earth. Today, that number has grown to more than six billion.

In 1998, North America accounted for nearly 30 percent of the world's total energy consumption. In fact, electricity is one of the largest commodities bought and sold in the United States. But are there enough resources to go around? Some say there are and that even more will be discovered. Some say there aren't and we'd better start looking for alternatives.

DONALD AITKEN, ENERGY CONSULTANT: Renewable energy is much harder than people realize. The only thing holding renewable energy back right now are the economics of not having a sufficiently large market. It's not the technology itself.

HAYNES: Whether you're a fan of windmills or fossil fuels, the fact remains that we need energy. So the debate rages on about what resources we have, where to find them and how best to use them.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HAYNES: High gas prices and a power crisis in California have U.S. lawmakers engaged in a policy debate over how we generate and distribute energy. Many argue the U.S. should become more independent by searching for oil in places like the disputed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Others contend the U.S. should become more self sufficient by reducing its dependency on oil and using renewable energy sources.


HAYNES: Crude oil, one of the world's most precious natural resources: In the U.S., people depend on oil as a major source of energy, both in their homes and as gasoline in their cars. In the 1970s, with shortages at the pump and an oil embargo, a lot of people wondered whether the world would some day run out of oil. Nowadays, the focus seems to have shifted from a dwindling oil supply to the U.S. dependence on imported oil and how burning it may impact the environment.

DANIEL LASHOF, NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: We're going to continue to use oil for a long time. The issue is creating incentives to gradually transition away from our excessive dependence on oil.

HAYNES: Daniel Lashof is one of many environmental scientists who think the U.S. needs to make finding alternatives to oil consumption a priority.

LASHOF: We can have much more leverage over our oil dependency by improving energy efficiency to reduce our demand for oil, rather than by focusing on developing new supplies.

HAYNES: But with high gas prices and California in the middle of an energy crisis, there are many, including some in the Bush administration, who say the solution needs to come now. And for that, they're looking here, Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 19 million acres of pristine wilderness in North Alaska.

Environmentalists call it America's Serengeti. U.S. oil producers consider it a diamond in the rough. Red Cavaney represents oil companies who want to open a small portion of the Arctic Reserve to explore for oil and reduce U.S. dependency on imports.

RED CAVANEY, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: We don't want to have a country that's reliant on one or two sources for crude oil or for natural gas or for anything, for that matter, because if something goes wrong, you're in very deep trouble.

HAYNES: Seismic tests suggest the Arctic Refuge may hold billions of barrels of oil. But nobody really knows for sure. Environmentalists say it's not worth the risk of disrupting the Arctic ecosystem. But the oil industry says it has ways around that -- literally.

CAVANEY: We now have, through directional drilling -- which is the capacity to take one small drill hole and actually bore down there, and through use of computer and optics and other technology, we can go off five miles in any direction and we can drill. And we can actually hit something the size of a closet.

HAYNES: Cavaney says the need for oil goes beyond U.S. borders, that, as other countries develop, just the way America did, their need for oil will match ours.

CAVANEY: But we often times forget that much of the developing world, you know, relies on much less sophisticated technology. As they go through that evolution from areas that don't have roads, that don't even have lights in today's environment, as they develop, they're going to be using many of the technologies that we will have left or moved behind.

HAYNES: And about that question from the 1970s: Will we ever run out of oil? Every few years, the U.S. Geological Survey makes an educated guess. And even oil companies concede that, some day, Earth's oil reserves could dry up.

CAVANEY: Theoretically, there will be such a day. But I expect it'll never arrive, because what's likely to happen is, at some distant point in the future, other alternative forms of energy, as technology permits, will roll on screen and they'll gain their share of it.

LASHOF: The question is: Will we move quickly enough to avoid the worst dangers of global warming to protect our pristine wilderness areas? Or will we wait until it's too late?


HAYNES: The concern over whether enough fuel exists to sustain us is probably best apparent in California. Since January, high energy demands coupled with tightened fuel supplies, have triggered a steady stream of power alerts and rolling blackouts. The state government is scrambling to implement new conservation rules, while frantically searching for more resources.

But not all Californians are feeling the crunch. Since the early 1980s, the state has encouraged the use and development of so-called "alternative energies" to help relieve some of the drain on resources.

NEWSROOM's Janice McDonald takes a look at that.


JANICE MCDONALD CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sacramento, California: capital of the state, role model for the world? A full 20 percent of the city's power comes from the sun, wind, water and geothermal pull -- in other words: renewable resources or so-called alternative energy, a fact that has won the local utility international recognition and awards.

COLIN TAYLOR, SACRAMENTO MUNICIPAL UTILITY DISTRICT: I don't think we like to use fossil fuels. I don't think they're particularly good for the environment. MCDONALD: Colin Taylor works for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District -- or SMUD. SMUD is owned by its customers, who encourage the utility to draw from green power, power generated from non-polluting resources. The utility currently leads the U.S. in energy production from photovoltaic cells, an updated and more efficient alternative to solar panels.

TAYLOR: They are the roof as well. So if you install these on your roof, you don't need to install anything else. And one of the things we're trying to do is to get housing developers to install these cells as part of the house itself when they originally build it. So a homeowner in Sacramento could buy a house with solar cells on the roof.

MCDONALD: SMUD helps pay for the cells to encourage more people to use them. Such cost-sharing for installing alternative fuel devices is prevalent throughout the state. Take this windmill: The state covered half its cost.

JOE GUASTI, WIND TURBINE OWNER: Since it's producing more than I need, I can also use it. I can divert my gas loads to electric loads. And so that's been fun. And it -- it's kind of enjoyable to leave some lights on and not feel guilty about just burning up all that power.

MCDONALD: In fact, Joe Guasti, electric meter often runs backwards, allowing him to bank power for later use. The same can happen in solar homes. A contractor by trade, Guasti, was so impressed that he's now selling windmills.

GUSTY: These are -- these are all the current customers -- people that have applied to the California Energy Commission for their buy-down money that pay for half of their machines.

MCDONALD Wind turbine manufacturers say their business is growing 20 to 40 percent a year.

BOB GATES, ENRON WIND: In today's world, at the high natural gas prices, wind energy is actually cheaper than gas. And because of environmental concerns, most people think it's a good thing to make electricity from the wind and not have emissions going into the air.

MCDONALD: Commercial wind farms like these dotting the hills near Palm Springs now provide 2 percent of the state's energy, a figure expected to rise over the next few years. In a year, one 600 kilowatt machine can generate enough power for 600 people, and, at the same time, save the use of more than 34,000 barrels of oil.

STEEN AAGAARD, SPECIALIZED TURBINE SERVICES: I think it makes good business sense to rely on wind. It will not go up in cost. Once you install the part, it is pretty much paid for and you have power that will not pollute. You don't have any byproducts.

MCDONALD: It helps that California's geography is well suited to a variety of alternative energy. Just north of Napa Valley, where geothermal pools bubble and steam, the ground is tapped to harness the steam.

(on camera): Geothermal exploration is not unlike exploration for oil and gas. Here, too, it takes a geologist to determine where the resources are located..

(voice-over): In fact, the numerous steam wells resemble their oil counterpart. This 30 square-mile area is crisscrossed with miles and miles of pipes snaking their way to power plants where the steam is converted to energy: clean, cheap and renewable. But the wind doesn't always blow. The sun doesn't always shine. And geothermal also has its drawbacks.

JAN STEWART, CALPINE: The only problem is, its limitations are that it has to be located in a geographic area that accommodates itself to being tapped to make electricity using geothermal energy. So it's not as widespread as say, fossil fuel or coal plants are in this country, but it is certainly a viable alternative.

MCDONALD: Some homeowners have found that their best alternative is to use power from the utility's grid, but use a system that limits it.

MIKE ERICSON, GEOTHERMAL ENGINEER: We're standing on a series of pipes that are drilled 200 feet into the earth. Within those pipes, we circulate water. That water picks up the heat and transfers it to machinery that's within the house.

MCDONALD: This system is called a geothermal pump. It brings heat into the house during the cold months and extracts it during the hot months.

ERICSON: This system is -- other than running the lights, this provides all the mechanical requirements for Fred's homes.

FRED CORSON, HOME OWNER: Even though this system had a higher up front cost, the annual savings for operations were so great that the total system turns out to be significantly lower cost in total than a conventional system.

MCDONALD: Long-time industry watcher Donald Aitken predicts that, with the growing energy crisis, more people will learn to understand the true value of green energy.

AITKEN: If you look at any time scale, the world was powered by renewable energy into this century. And next century, it will be powered by renewable energy again. The alternative energy resources are the temporary use of oil, gas and coal. The basic, stable, sustainable energy resources are the ones we did use and the ones we will use.

MCDONALD: Janice McDonald, CNN Newsroom, Berkeley, California.


HAYNES: One major power supply that has a rocky existence is nuclear power. Accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Russia's Chernobyl plants cast a shadow over the industry. But in these days of potential shortages in the power supply, a new day may be dawning for its use.

Kate Snow reports.


KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside the North Anna nuclear site an hour north of Richmond, the generators roar 24 hours a day. Two reactors produce enough electricity for a quarter million Virginia homes. Nationwide, nuclear plants provide roughly one-fifth of the country's power and supporters say that number could grow.

JOE COLVIN, NUCLEAR ENERGY INSTITUTE: It's amazing what a little shortage of electricity will do for your view on what's needed for the future.

SNOW: The nuclear industry is sensing a shift. For the first time in decades, politicians talk openly about using nuclear power to diversify America's energy supply.

COLVIN: This is an industry today that is not the industry that it was 20 years ago. This is an industry today that is operating these plants safely, reliably, competitively, and at performance levels that exceed any other source of generation that we have in the United States.

SNOW: On Capitol Hill, support for nuclear power is in part a response to constituents. Nuclear plants operate in 31 states.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: I think it has changed, and it's changed in part based on personal experience. One of the reasons that I have been a supporter of nuclear is because we've had such a good experience in Florida where we have three nuclear farms and they contribute about 20 percent of our total energy supply.

SNOW: And with the Bush administration backing nuclear power, it's no longer as politically dangerous for members of Congress to be pro-nuclear. Vice President Cheney first endorsed the idea on a talk show.

"If you want to do something about carbon dioxide emissions," he said, "then you ought to build nuclear power plants."

It's been nearly 25 years since the last commercial reactor was ordered, 1978, one year before the accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island. Opponents of nuclear power contend the politics have changed but the danger hasn't.

PAUL GUNTER, NUCLEAR INFORMATION & RESOURCE SERVICE: Right now, we believe that we're in more danger with the nuclear power industry than in the earlier days when public concern focused on construction programs, because now is the time that the industry is seeking new bottom lines that pit profit margins against safety margins.

(on camera): The federal government was supposed to take control of commercial nuclear waste in 1998, but that didn't happen. One thing both pro- and anti-nuclear forces agree on, if there's the political will to build more nuclear reactors, there must also be the will to deal with the waste.

Kate Snow, CNN, Capitol Hill.


HAYNES: I just came outside for a second to check out one of these fuelless vehicles. This is the EV1, made by General Motors. At Georgia Power, they encourage their employees to lease cars like this. With teenagers making up a growing number of the American driving population, we wanted to find out if you would drive a car like this.


(voice-over): Monday morning, and students at Roswell High School near Atlanta are returning from spring break. Hundreds of them are part of a large convoy that files into the school's parking lot every day.

BRIAN NEWHALL, PRINCIPAL, ROSWELL HIGH SCHOOL: It's a problem. It takes quite a bit of administrative time. We probably have more than 600 students that are able to come to school in their own vehicles every day.

HAYNES: But the problem goes beyond the usual complaints of traffic jams and safety concerns for teens. As if they weren't enough, the next generation of American drivers could also be contributing to global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel like oil that power most cars could be adversely affecting the Earth's atmosphere. And with young Americans making up nearly 10 percent of the driving population, the potential for them to impact the environment is real.

So at Roswell, we found a group of students who say kids their age should think more about the environment and less about their cars.

KATE JOSTWORTH, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I think some kids do worry about it, but the majority are just worried about their reputation and their freedom. They don't really care about how the world is going to be for their children later on. They just care about their world right now.

HAYNES: But with both parents working and many students holding their own jobs, this group concedes having a car is sometimes a downright necessity. Plus, for a lot of them, being seen on the bus just isn't an option.

(on camera): When you see one of your friends getting on the bus, are you like, "Loser," you know? "Why don't you have a car?"


TAYLOR ANGERT, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Well, of course, there's that reputation, I think -- I think there's always been that reputation.

SONIA KIM, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I think it's basically assumed that when you're 16, you'll have a car and you'll drive to school. And if you don't, then it's kind of -- I don't know -- you don't really fit in.

HAYNES (voice-over): Sonia Kim fits in just fine. Her contribution to a cleaner environment: She doesn't drive to school.

KIM: I think that car pooling is a really good idea. And I think that it really helps, you know, reduce the emissions and things like that into the environment.

HAYNES: Car pooling, yes -- mass transit, another alternative, but what about driving one of these things? We took our group of eco- friendly students to check out the next generation of eco-friendly cars. This one, called the Honda Insight: a hybrid car that runs on regular gas, but generates electricity as you drive it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gives off very few pollutants. It is, you know, again, a hybrid engine.

HAYNES: The young drivers were interested enough in the new technology, but would they really consider owning a hybrid?

JOSTWORTH: Just looking at it, I know it may be the future, but it seems too futuristic for me. It doesn't really seem like it would be my first choice for a car.

INDIVAR DUTTAR-GOPTA, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I think you have to have sort of a design like this. And I think it's quite attractive to cut down on drag.

HAYNES: Other cars use even less gas, running only on electricity.

(on camera): Would you mind the hassle of plugging in and juicing up?

KIM: I don't think I would mind. I mean, I guess once -- if this ever becomes mainstream, it'll be just like people going to gas stations now. I think that, you know, if the rest of society accepts it, then I think that it'll be fine.

HAYNES (voice-over): The hybrid Honda Insight runs about $20,000, maybe a little more than what's in the pockets of these conscious consumers. But environmentalists hope, when they're ready to buy their next car, alternative-fuel vehicles won't be so alternative anymore.


HAYNES: A number of times during the program, the term "global warming" has come up. Well, to help us understand exactly what global warming is, we're joined by CNN environment correspondent Natalie Pawelski. Hey, Natalie.


You know, watching that last story, it was strange to think that just 100 years ago, we wouldn't be talking about what kind of car to get; we'd be talking about what kind of horse and buggy to get. A lot can change in a century. And in the last century, researchers say one of the biggest changes on Earth has been humankind's effect on the climate -- a warmer climate because of people's use of fossil fuels.


PAWELSKI (voice-over): Storms rage, polar ice caps melt, drought spreads, diseases kill, the oceans rise. Sounds like a plot for a bad disaster movie, but scientists say these could be the real-life effects of global warming.

MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: It is definitely happening. The world is about a degree Fahrenheit warmer than it was a century ago. Glaciers are melting, the ocean is getting warmer, the atmosphere is warmer at almost all levels near the surface, the soil is warmer. The whole place is heating up. There's no doubt about it: Global warming is here.

PAWELSKI: Michael Oppenheimer is one of thousands of scientists who has worked with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The scientists' mission: to find out the truth about global warming. The verdict: Earth is heating up and people are at least partly to blame.

The U.N. panel predicts that over the next century, the Earth will get hotter, with average temperatures rising by 2 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The culprit: air pollution, in the form of so-called greenhouse gasses; most notably carbon dioxide, from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.

Fossil fuels are used to power everything from cars and planes to furnaces and air conditioners. Most power plants also burn fossil fuels. So when you turn on the lights of a TV, you're probably relying on fossil fuels as well and contributing your part to greenhouse gas emissions.

(on camera): Those gases act a lot like the glass in a greenhouse, trapping the sun's energy. In the same way a greenhouse stays warm on a sunny day, even in the middle of winter, so Earth stays warm even while orbiting through frigid space. That greenhouse effect is what makes life on Earth possible. But if greenhouse gases build up too much, the planet could overheat.

(voice-over): If that happens, the U.N. scientific panel says sea level will rise between 6 inches and 3 feet over the next century. Coastal floods could become more common and more severe. Low-lying ecosystems, like Louisiana's bayous and the Florida Everglades, could be flooded, their unique mix of plants and animals forever changed. And for some countries surrounded by ocean with little money to spend on trying to hold it back, rising sea levels could be devastating. To make matters worse, researchers predict a warmer ocean will fuel more frequent, stronger tropical storms.

On land, a changing climate could change the world's forests. For example, in a few generations, there may be no more making maple syrup in southern New England. Researchers say the temperatures could get too hot for sugar maples to thrive there.

In arid regions, researchers believe, things will get drier. That could mean problems for farmers, glitches in drinking water supplies, even expanding deserts.

One more threat: tropical diseases. They could widen their range to newly-warmed lands and find whole new pools of victims.

(on camera): It is a frightening list of possibilities. But there are voices of dissent. A few scientists say global warming is a theory that's so far from being proven it's not worth worrying about. Others say that while global warming may be real, it just doesn't matter.

PATRICK MICHAELS, CATO INSTITUTE: We really don't care whether human beings change the climate. Every city that we have is a changed climate: several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside, for example. That's been known for years that that happens. With our industrial emissions, what we have done is we have globalized this phenomenon. Big deal.

PAWELSKI (voice-over): Pat Michaels, one of the scientists who participated in the United Nations panel on climate change says there is a herd mentality among climate researchers. He says they are latching onto the gloomiest, least-likely predictions while ignoring evidence to the contrary. Besides, he argues, even if Earth's climate changes, people will simply adapt.

MICHAELS: Global warming's real, but it's an overblown issue. The world has many problems to confront in the 21st century, and I don't think global warming is one of them.


PAWELSKI: Pondering global warming is not just an academic exercise. It's also a political and economic one. In 1997, at a United Nations convention on climate change in Kyoto, Japan, dozens of nations agreed on a plan for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. But so far, the United States, which produces about a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, has not ratified the agreement. Opponents say it would cost too much and it fails to hold poorer countries to strict pollution limits.

The next millennium's wildcard is China. Its rapidly-growing, coal-fired economy is poised to surpass the United States as the world's No. 1 source of greenhouse gases by the year 2025. So even if Earth's wealthy nations agree to the hard-fought Kyoto emissions limits, the world's most populous nation could effectively cancel out the whole effort.

While governments wrangle, some surprising players have stepped up to the plate from the world of industry. Ford Motor Company, Royal Dutch Shell, BP Amoco and Dow all have acknowledged global warming as a reality and announced concrete plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

KALEE KREIDER, NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL TRUST: Major companies have gone out of climate denial. You know, they've moved from the camp of global warming isn't real and sticking their head in the sand, to a posture of, hey, looks like global warming is real and what are we going to do about it and how do we make money dealing with the fact that we're going to be taking some of these measures to clean our air and deal with global warming.

PAWELSKI: For now, the global-warming issue is in the hands of diplomats, politicians, businesses and the everyday decisions made by billions of people around the globe. What we do about global warming could end up defining what the world looks like in the next millennium.


PAWELSKI: Right now, a lot of other countries are mad at President Bush's rejection of the Kyoto protocol. They figure, since the United States is the biggest producer of greenhouse gasses, Washington should bear the biggest responsibility for doing something about global warming.

HAYNES: Well, Natalie, why is the Bush administration -- and much of the U.S. Senate, actually -- so against the Kyoto protocol?

PAWELSKI: Well, it seems to be a case of follow the money. President Bush has said that limiting fossil fuels could limit economic growth. And he's worried about that.

HAYNES: All right, a lot to consider when it comes to the environment -- Natalie, thanks.

That'll about do it for this CNN NEWSROOM special edition: "Powering the Planet." My thanks to Natalie Pawelski for joining us. And thanks to you, as well.

I'm Tom Haynes. We'll see you next time.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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