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Power energises US election fever

Election fever continues to grip the US, and while the continuing difficulties in Iraq take centre stage, voters' focus is also on energy policy. Prices of natural gas and crude oil have soared, while a series of blackouts have paralysed the industrial heartland. At the same time, the future of the nation's energy system teeters on the brink of collapse.

President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry have made their intentions clear on their detailed energy policy proposals, and there is some level of convergence – particularly on renewables. In other areas, particularly on the current level of the strategic petroleum reserve, there are stark differences.

Should he be elected to a second term in office, Bush would like to see a further commitment – maybe to the tune of $1.7 billion – to hydrogen fuel development. He has also committed to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a research and development programme for advancing nuclear fusion technology.

Then there are 'wild cards,' such as providing incentives for the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska, winch could supply 6 to 8 percent of natural gas consumed in the US.

More popular, perhaps, is the initiative to streamline the siting of high-priority transmission lines, one would think, in the light of recent power failures.

Kerry agrees with the need to develop biofuels, and a robust hydrogen infrastructure. Somewhat curiously, perhaps, he is also a supporter of establishing the Alaskan natural gas pipeline.

But, Kerry is outspoken on energy efficiency. He wants to cut the federal government's energy bill 20 per cent by 2020. One measure will be to provide tax credits for the construction of energy efficient buildings and homes.

He also wants to put in place a national goal of producing 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Some $10 billion would be spent over the next ten years in shifting the trend from coal-fired power plants to cleaner and more advanced coal power plants, and researching ways to develop coal-based forms of hydrogen production.

There may be bigger issues that will drive the candidates towards election. It will be interesting to see who gets the mix right.

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