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Energy summit focuses on alternative energy

Norman_The United States needs more energy sources, and they need to be affordable.  At an energy summit held in Norman, Oklahoma on Friday, it was a common theme as some of the state's leading energy experts met.  Topics ranged from oil and gas, to switch grass nuclear power.  Congressman Tom Cole, along with state, county, and city leaders from throughout southwestern Oklahoma were at the summit to learn more about one of the most hotly debated topics in America. 

Oklahoma native T. Boone Pickens spoke about energy in front of congress a few weeks ago, and the state of Oklahoma has the largest natural gas producer in North America, an abundance of bio-fuel experts, and a lot of wind.  Oklahoma is a heavy hitter when it comes to energy.

Energy is on the top of the list of concerns for Americans - high electric bills, expensive gasoline, and just wait until winter when everyone gets their natural gas bill.  "We've made either no choice or the wrong choices in many cases for the last generation," said Cole.  "Now it's time to get very serious about what is our future in oil and gas, what is our future in nuclear, what is our future in wind, what is our future in biomass."

While no one is claiming to know the answer to all of those questions, experts in the energy sector likely have the most information.  While they are businessmen - and opinionated - they may be right.  For example, the debate on Congress' 27-year ban on off-shore drilling is ongoing.  "Politicians have finally figured out that's costing the American consumer a lot of money," said Larry Nichols with Devon Energy.  "It's causing higher energy prices, and they're beginning to realize that, and beginning to think about opening up areas where we can develop more American oil and gas and bring prices down."

Another ongoing debate is on wind energy.  Should Congress approve a national tax credit for wind power?  "When you have Boone Pickens and Al Gore pushing the same wind energy agenda, you know you've hit the big time," said wind energy expert Mike Bergy.  Wind energy is currently seen as economically advantageous for Oklahoma - they're leased on Oklahoma land, and built and operated by Oklahomans.  Bergy says our dependence on coal is sapping the state financially.  "Most of the coal we burn here in Oklahoma is shipped in by Wyoming, so we're bleeding about $300 million a year to buy Wyoming coal."

Then, there are bio-fuels.  Oklahoma State University is growing forage sorghum on its research farm in Chickasha.  It's just one example of the research and development of cellulostic ethanol fuel.  Experts say that if bio-fuels can be developed from certain plants, it could save $50 billion dollars and reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil, and keep that money here at home.

While we can't solve our energy problems overnight, everyone agrees that we need to begin the search for solutions now.  "You can't solve a problem in a big diverse democracy like this unless it catches the public's attention for a sustained period of time," said Cole.  "That's what moves legislation, ultimately."

Finally, there is nuclear energy.  A panel member says that several states that border Oklahoma - Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas - have had great success with nuclear energy.  However, because of safety concerns, a new nuclear plant hasn't been built in the U.S. in 24 years.  Nuclear energy has made headlines in the presidential race.  Senator John McCain said this week that he would like to see 45 new nuclear power plants in America by 2030, and Senator Barack Obama also expressed interest in exploring nuclear power along with finding ways to ensure the power is safely used.

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