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Crane: ‘Nap-and-Pray’ No Solution for Energy Crisis

After a long, partisan fight around the health care reform bill, the bipartisan movement toward comprehensive energy and climate legislation is refreshing.

[IMGCAP(1)]There is much both parties can agree on in the energy and environmental arena: dramatically reducing our dependence on foreign oil, enabling American business and American workers to capture the manufacturing and export opportunities emerging from American clean tech innovation, ensuring a healthy environment for our kids and creating new American jobs in high-value, high-growth industries.

China sees the opportunity. It has allocated an enormous portion of its own massive 2009 economic stimulus to new energy infrastructure, now spending $12 million per hour on clean energy initiatives. Abu Dhabi sees the opportunity, too. Though it sits next to the vast petroleum and natural gas resources of the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi has embarked on a crash course to build a series of nuclear power plants to reduce both its dependence on fossil fuels and its greenhouse gas emissions. These countries and many others, as a matter of public policy, are embracing a low-carbon, less fossil-fuel-dependent future.

The path to a vibrant new “Made in America,” low-carbon energy economy is clear: clean affordable base load nuclear, supported by bountiful but intermittent wind and solar power, backed by quick-start natural gas plants, all of it linked to a new transportation infrastructure that is “electrified” for plug-in passenger vehicles and is “gasified” for heavy duty trucks, by smart meters and a strengthened grid. American fuels. American resources. American jobs fueled by American innovation.

Critics tag proposals to capture these exciting new energy opportunities as “cap-and-tax” schemes that will grievously injure U.S. business and destroy American jobs. In this regard, critics say they have the support of American business. On both counts, they are wrong. American business wants to compete against the rest of the world for the enormous opportunity of the “new energy” economy and to do so on the strength not only of American innovation and entrepreneurship, but also on the foundation of a robust American market for low-carbon technologies and services.

We know that it will take both bodies of Congress to pass the legislation needed to make possible this dynamic, clean and affordable energy future. Fortunately, over the past few months I have met with administration officials and Senators from both sides of the aisle and have been included in discussions around a new suite of ideas that are starting to be rolled out. Ideas under active bipartisan consideration in the Senate will address legitimate concerns about an economy-wide cap-and-trade approach, while nonetheless taking the essential step of setting a price on carbon pollution, thus enabling the low-carbon domestic energy market. It deserves the serious, urgent and open-minded consideration of every public policymaker.

For the cap-and-trade critics on Capitol Hill who are unwilling to take a serious look at these new ideas, tell us: What is your alternative? For the global environment, for national energy security, for the American worker, for an American businessman like me, “nap-and-pray” is not an option.

The world’s approach to energy is changing, and if we want to protect or grow our share of this $6 trillion-a-year global industry, we need to change and innovate with it. A legislative framework for our energy future would create millions of American jobs now, foster energy independence and, by weaning America off foreign oil, enhance our national security.

But business alone cannot bring these new technologies and best practices to anything like the scale needed until we get a market framework and clear price signals from a new government policy that rewards clean energy innovation and investment and gives us real alternatives to buying imported oil at the gas pump every week, all while creating new jobs and revitalizing America’s core businesses.

American business knows this result will have to be based on common ground, real engagement and legitimate give-and-take work by both political parties, both bodies of Congress and the White House. Now is the time for that process to begin in earnest.

David Crane is president and CEO of NRG Energy Inc., a Princeton, N.J.-based Fortune 500 company that owns and operates one of the country’s most diverse power generation portfolios including coal, wind, nuclear and solar facilities.

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