It is time to move past the overheated rhetoric of climate change and examine specifically, point by point, what a climate program may mean for South Carolina's economy.
South Carolina will benefit in many ways from a shift toward renewable energy. Today, General Electric in Greenville employs more than 3,000 people in the manufacturing and engineering of wind turbines, and the growth in this sector is among the highest in the nation. Other S.C. companies involved with wind technology include Timken, Bosch and a variety of smaller businesses that provide support to these larger corporations.
The port of Charleston could gain substantially from an expanding wind industry in South Carolina. Because the large scale components of modern wind machines are difficult to transport over land, co-location of manufacturers with a port is almost essential. Building an industrial cluster around wind would be a logical strategy that climate legislation would only make more attractive.
South Carolina's underused and underperforming agricultural land could easily produce a variety of bio-fuel crops, as evidenced by Clemson's research on switch grass. Natural gas-fired power plants emit roughly half as much carbon per unit of energy as coal plants. So even shifts from one carbon-based fuel to another will work to the benefit of S.C. industry.
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The wood waste from timber harvesting also is a potential source of renewable fuel. South Carolina has some of the best timberlands in the nation, but the decline in pulp prices has put pressure on landowners to examine other revenue sources. More than half of the acreage in the state is devoted to forestry, and climate change legislation offers yet another important revenue prospect for forest landowners - the sale of carbon credits.
Because growing forests sequester carbon, forest conservation is a critical part of the climate stabilization agenda. Already, landowners can sell carbon credits on the climate exchange in Chicago. Federal climate legislation will expand that market dramatically, offering a robust new revenue source for the tens of thousands of South Carolinians who own forestland.
The nuclear industry will be another beneficiary of federal climate legislation, and South Carolina stands to benefit more than other states. Today, 60 percent of the electricity produced in the state is nuclear. This places South Carolina third in the nation in nuclear power production. SCANA and Santee Cooper are collaborating on two new nuclear reactors at the Summer plant in Jenkinsville, which could be the first new commercial units to come on line in more than a decade.
Nuclear power has a variety of challenges to overcome, especially waste disposal and safety, federal climate legislation will create a powerful incentive to resolve these issues quickly. As that happens, South Carolina is well positioned to take advantage of an expanded market and expanded support for nuclear energy.
Finally, South Carolina has the distinction of being one of the least energy-efficient states in the country. While our electric rates are among the lowest nationwide, our bills are among the highest. This means that there are enormous gains to be realized through investing in energy efficiency - improving insulation, replacing heating and air conditioner systems, fixing leaky windows and many other simple, cost-effective measures.
Climate legislation can jump-start efficiency in the state, create tens of thousands of jobs that cannot be outsourced, save money for families and businesses by reducing power bills and reduce the need for utilities to invest in costly new power generation facilities of any sort.
Regardless of whether we agree on the relative importance of greenhouse gas reduction, South Carolina is in position to reap substantial benefits from federal climate legislation.