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Let's Spend Our Energy Developing an Energy Policy

As a nation, we are spending way too much energy arguing about energy. With all the energy-related debates going on today about everything from environmental regulations to the role of government subsidies, it is time to step back and remember that all of us in the energy space share many of the same long-term objectives. We ultimately want to develop new technologies, cleaner energy and a more robust grid while using energy more efficiently. If we can join together and focus our energy on supporting a balanced national energy policy, we can achieve the goal of a cleaner, more secure energy future.

This is a time when our industry should be assisting Washington policymakers in developing a much-needed comprehensive national energy policy instead of being polarized over what the country's energy priorities should be. Rather than argue about renewables versus fossil fuels; competitive markets versus regulation; the need for new generation versus environmental concerns, we need to recognize that we are spending more energy debating the merits and politics rather than finding solutions. We get so wrapped up in disagreements and an unwillingness to compromise that there is a lack of focus on making any element of energy policy work. This tone does little to help our companies, our customers or our country.

Instead, we need to visualize what we want our nation's energy landscape to look like decades down the road - setting lofty goals much like President Kennedy did in 1961 when he challenged us to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Once we define the long-term objectives, we can put in place the structure and incentives to spur the development of the new technologies and infrastructure to get us there.

In the past, efforts to create a national energy plan have focused on responding to the news of the day. A sudden increase in gasoline prices leads to policy decisions designed to wean the nation from dependence on foreign oil, a stated - but unachieved - goal of every president since Richard Nixon. Piecemeal policy efforts that attempt to fix yesterday's problems do little to put the nation on the path to a secure, diversified and cleaner energy future.

Adoption of a comprehensive, long-term energy strategy would be a movement toward economic growth and job creation. It would help balance the security and reliability of the nation's current energy resources with the integration and capability of newer, cleaner technologies. It would also balance the nation's energy and economic security needs with the always important desire for continued environmental improvement. And it would give us a framework to follow when making decisions today that move us a step closer to the objectives for tomorrow.

In our view, a comprehensive energy policy would help transform the way we produce and use energy, making the system more efficient and further diversifying our fuel mix. It also would remove the barriers that are holding back the development of a more robust grid to bring this cleaner, more efficient energy to our homes and businesses.

Instead of following a common-sense energy plan that takes into account today's economic realities, tomorrow's energy needs and the nation's environmental goals, the utility industry is facing a slew of new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will unnecessarily raise the cost of electricity and further hamper our economic recovery. These rules are also being put forth in a piecemeal fashion, with no consideration of the compliance costs or impact on electric reliability when power plants are forced to retire early without enough time to make retrofits or secure replacement generation.

We know there is a better way to achieve the same long-term environmental goals without stifling our economic recovery and causing electricity prices to skyrocket in many of the states still reeling from the recession. AEP has long advocated for a legislative approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning our nation's generation mix to cleaner fuels - in a way that balances the environmental needs and economic impacts of this energy transformation.

A comprehensive national energy policy would go a long way in addressing the challenges facing the electric industry today. It would provide the certainty that we all need to invest in the future - creating jobs and propelling our economy forward. There has never been a better time to work together to shape our energy future, ensuring safe, reliable, cleaner energy and a stronger economy for decades to come. That would be a much better use of our collective energy.

Robert P. Powers is executive vice president and chief operating officer for American Electric Power (AEP), responsible for power generation, commercial operations and AEP's electric utility operations that serve more than 5 million customers in 11 states.

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