SGA attendees: New energy has benefits, challenges

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — New energy sources and technologies will eventually reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, but also may bring environmental challenges and conflicts over land and resources, energy experts said.

Panelists in a round-table discussion at the Southern Governors’ Association meeting in Asheville agreed that the region and the country must become more energy-independent, but voiced wide-ranging views on which alternate resources and techniques are likely to deliver safe, reliable sources of fuel.

“We need to be careful going forward; we need to think through these choices,” said Duke Energy CEO James E. Rogers.

The introduction of corn-based ethanol, fracking procedures to release natural gas reserves, and the development of the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Texas were among hot topics at the discussions.

Rogers complained that farming incentives to raise corn for ethanol have resulted in higher food-corn prices. And that, in turn, has led to increased costs for chickens and pigs in North Carolina, according to Gov. Beverly Perdue.

But Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri defended the ethanol program, saying its potential as an alternative fuel may never be realized if the subsidies are abandoned too quickly.

“I think we need to finish some things after we start them,” Nixon said.

Among the presenters was Richard K. Stoneburner of Petrohawk, a company that removes natural gas from underground through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Critics say the process, which involves horizontal drilling into shale reservoirs, has the potential for groundwater contamination.

Stoneburner said proper well design can reduce or eliminate water quality issues. He said his studies indicate there is a 120-year supply of gas that can be tapped through fracking.

While natural gas is considered a clean energy source, fracking has had little environmental scrutiny so far.

Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., told the governors to consider his country’s oil reserves a reliable alternative energy option for the U.S.

Doer is a proponent of the Keystone Pipeline, a proposal that would move oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. However, opponents have claimed the pipeline will create environmental hazards. State Department approval of the $7 billion project has remained pending for the three years.

The governors attending the three-day association meeting — five Republicans and four Democrats — have discussed a number of challenging issues without resorting to partisan politics, association spokeswoman Charlotte Cole said.

Jud Bowman, who founded two successful tech startups after graduating from North Carolina’s School of Science and Mathematics in 1999, gave a presentation during an afternoon business session.

His ring-tone company, Motricity, later went public. Bowman now serves as head of Appia, headquartered in Durham and specializing in cell phone applications.

Bowman stressed that keeping innovative business ideas and inventors in the South requires available venture capital, something that entrepreneurs may find more easily in the tech-hubs of California or Boston.

“Capital has geographic qualities to it, and that is of utmost importance to the South,” he said.

Bowman said he raised his first $10 million in capital from southern investors, something that allowed him to remain and do business in his home state. “I was born in North Carolina and I like it here,” he said.