Why there's no U.S. energy policy

Saturday, March 19, 2011; 11:05 PM

John Rowe, CEO of utilities giant Exelon, talks to The Post's Steve Mufson about why America has failed to create an energy policy.

We haven't had an energy policy in this country in the two decades I've been in the utility business. We've had fits and starts toward one, but never a cohesive policy. The left always wants more of the next generation technology. Wind and solar are the current favorites. The right wants more of the heavy industrial technologies - nuclear and coal particularly. The market, meanwhile. is telling us that natural gas is queen and is going to be for a long time.

In our business, leadership has a lot to do with understanding how the environmental problems affect your company and its customers.

Up until about 1970, when I graduated from law school, the electricity business was almost entirely driven by technology and economies of scale. Starting about when I wandered in with my shiny new briefcase, all that changed. The environmental costs of producing energy became much more tangible.

There's the famous Moore's Law about how fast the capability of the computer chip doubled. Well, Moore's Law doesn't work when you're dealing with megatons and megawatts and megadollars. Change comes much more slowly in our business. It tends to come in cycles of decades rather than 18-month cycles.

I remember one day a very bright young person who was new to the business was listening to the CEOs debate climate. This young woman walked over to me and said, "Don't they get it? These problems are real." And I said, "You're listening to the heads of the lowest-priced companies in the United States. Keeping the cost down is real, too."

Everything moves slow because you have to get a mix of social and economic issues to work.

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