U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander spoke out Tuesday against a proposed energy mandate - involving wind power - that he said would "raise our taxes, run away jobs and ruin our mountaintops."
Alexander said Tennessee is one of 27 states that would not meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard expected to be offered as an amendment by Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., as part of energy legislation now before the Senate.
Bingaman's amendment would mandate that 15 percent of energy come from renewable sources, such as wind, by 2020 or that utilities pay a penalty for failing to meet that goal, according to Alexander.
"We need energy independence in America, but we need energy independence that makes sense," Alexander said during a conference call with reporters. "The Bingaman proposal ... reminds me of the defendant in East Tennessee who was sentenced to be hung or shot and he asks the judge if he could have another choice. The idea that every state should be required to produce 15 percent of its energy by renewable power sounds good, but when you look at the details what it really means is every state would have to produce most of that power by these giant wind turbines which don't work in Tennessee or almost all of the Southeast."
Alexander said TVA's Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm in Tennessee - the only operating utility-scale wind-energy project in the Southeast - operates at just 19 to 24 percent of capacity due to a lack of wind.
"It's been a big disappointment," he said of the project.
The National Academy of Sciences says 93 percent of potential wind-energy capacity occurs west of the Mississippi River, with just 7 percent in Tennessee and other states east of the Mississippi, said Alexander.
The American Wind Energy Association has been airing a series of radio ads supporting the Bingaman energy mandate and calling it "an essential element that must be included in any serious attempt to address the issues of energy supply and global warming."
But a letter sent to Bingaman from the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners suggested decisions regarding renewable energy portfolios should be "left to the states."
Alexander stressed the better energy choice is more power from conservation and efficiency, nuclear power and clean coal.
"There are a record number of applications for new nuclear power plants. ... TVA is considering one or two more reactors," Alexander said. "Because of its nuclear and hydro plants, Tennessee is already on the honor roll, ranking 16th among states in production of carbon-free electricity."
Alexander said TVA estimates that Bingaman's proposal would eventually add $410 million a year to Tennesseans' utility bills. The senator said that's like giving away 205 million $2 fluorescent light bulbs per year or paying the $101 per month electric bill for Tennessee's 2.5 million residential TVA customers for a month and a half a year.
"That's a lot of money at a time when Tennessee industries are weighing whether to expand jobs here or overseas," Alexander said.
He quoted TVA scientists who said it would take 720 wind turbines lining 110 miles of East Tennessee ridge tops - the distance from Knoxville to Chattanooga - to meet just a 2 percent proposed wind standard.
"The 400-foot wind turbines are twice as high as the luxury boxes at the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium," Alexander said. "The rotor blades of one wind turbine would span from one 10-yard line to the other 10-yard line of the stadium's football field."