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Gore skeptical of 'clean coal' in Dominican address

Nov 10, 2009 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Rob Rogers - The Marin Independent Journal

Former Vice President Al Gore voiced support Monday for the Obama Administration's plan to build a "supergrid" that could carry the electricity generated by solar, wind and other renewable resources from remote parts of the nation to America's cities.

But Gore, who drew an audience of more than 1,000 to San Rafael's Dominican University, remained skeptical of the "clean coal" technology the president has championed. The administration has spent $3.4 billion of stimulus funds on tests of the technology, which would capture the carbon dioxide produced by coal-fired power plants and drive it deep underground.

"I hope that it works," Gore said. "But it bears the burden of implausibility. If you're the manager of a large coal plant, your business plan is to sell electricity. If you put carbon-capture sequestration technology there, it will take one third of the electricity you were selling. That's going to make your business plan go haywire, and there's a limit to how much taxpayers are going to want to pick up the tab."

Gore, whose work to raise awareness about global climate change earned him a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 -- as well as an Academy Award in the same year for his film, "An Inconvenient Truth" -- returned to the issue for a discussion of his latest book, "Our Choice: A Plan To Solve The Climate Crisis."

A sequel of sorts to "An Inconvenient Truth," the book follows more than 30 "solution summits" Gore convened with scientists and environmental leaders worldwide to address the problems associated with climate change, including melting ice caps, more powerful storms, mass extinctions of plants and animals and loss of food production.

"The solution is sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, sustainable forests and a higher level of efficiency throughout the world's civilization," said Gore, to sustained applause from the audience at Dominican's Angelico Hall.

"I love Marin County," the former presidential candidate said, adding that if the rest of the nation followed Marin's example, "I would have just completed my second term as president."

Yet Gore called upon his supporters to do more, saying that changes to their lifestyles were not enough.

"If you want to be part of the solution, it's important that you do more than change your light bulb," Gore said. "You have to be active in the democratic process."

Gore argued that widespread support for wind, solar and geothermal power would cause the cost of those technologies to drop, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and helping to energize the domestic economy. He added that a change in the nation's energy supply had to be coupled with changes in demand and in the distribution of electricity.

"The electric car is the future of our auto fleet, but we need to develop that electric car while simultaneously developing renewable sources of power and a 'supergrid' to get that power where it's needed," Gore said.

To make those changes, however, Gore argued that Americans would have to overcome the political influence wielded by large polluters. He blamed the decline of newspaper readership and the rising cost of political campaigns, driven by the need for television advertising, for sapping both major parties of the will to take on environmental issues.

"We will be asked by future generations, 'How did you rise to the occasion and solve this crisis?'" Gore said. "And we have to give our answer in deeds, not words. We have everything we need, except possibly the political will."

Gore, currently the chairman of the satellite television news network Current TV and a senior advisor to Google, spoke for nearly an hour Monday night, peppering his discussion of the sobering state of the global climate with frequent jokes. Gore did not take questions at the end of his presentation, choosing instead to sign books for the hundreds who lined up outside the auditorium.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted. He was so full of energy, feeling and passion," said Robb Miller of San Rafael, who said he was impressed by Gore's speech and surprised by his skepticism about the future of nuclear energy.

Marielle Leon of San Rafael said Gore's speech led her to wonder about what might have been.

"It would be interesting to know what it would have been like if he was president for eight years, if he would have been able to do what he is doing now, or if he would have been derailed," Leon said.

Read more San Rafael stories at the IJ's San Rafael section.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com