Galen Scott

The specter of affordable clean energy is beating its chest at the forefront of the Texas railroad commissioner race.

Major Buck Werner is running against incumbent Chair Elizabeth Jones in the March 7 Republican primary and emphasizing a turn toward non-traditional forms of energy production.

Jones was appointed to the position in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry and received endorsements for a full term from several major publications.

Werner, a Duncanville ROTC school teacher, supports the FutureGen project, a plan to build the world’s first zero- emission coal-fired power plant in Texas.

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush told the nation it was addicted to oil and called for more investment in zero-emission coal-fired power plants and renewable forms of energy.

The new federal focus on non-traditional energy production directly affects Texas in its capacity as the nation’s number one producer of oil and natural gas.

Bush announced federal funding for the plan in 2003 and the Department of Energy (DOE) claims it will be the cleanest fossil fuel-fired power plant in the world.

Texas was chosen for the world’s first eco-friendly super plant and five sights have already been identified for the FutureGen project.

Baytown, Jewett, Odessa, Palestine and Pearsall were selected by the FutureGen Advisory Board from site proposals submitted by regional councils of government throughout the state.

FutureGen, along with escalating natural gas rates, higher prices at the pumps and political unrest in the Middleast, is contributing to an unusual amount of interest in the energy policy of candidates in 2006.

The railroad commission, Texas’ oldest regulatory agency, is in charge of the oil and gas industry, gas utilities and pipeline safety.

Jones serves as the commission’s representative to the Coastal Coordination Council, which focuses on economic productivity of the coast and has acknowledged the importance of future energy supplies.

She also emphasized however, the development of Texas’ remaining oil and gas supplies will provide a necessary base.

“It is nothing less than patriotic to make sure the oil and gas industry in our state remains vibrant,” Jones said. “I want to hear what needs to be done to make the Railroad Commission more efficient and responsive to the industry’s needs.”

Werner specifically listed FutureGen, along with wind and solar power, as priorities if elected. He said the joint project will generate more than 11,000 jobs and represent a $1.2 billion economic benefit to Texas.

“Such a project would make Texas the undisputed world energy leader,” he said “We must find fuel-saving projects that will stop our dependence on foreign oil.”

But Werner, a former comptroller, also hopes to cut cost and streamline bureaucracy.

Expected to function as both a power plant and research facility, FutureGen is a massive $1 billion project, though the DOE and FutureGen Industrial Alliance are co-sponsoring the initiative.

The GOP nominee will run against Democrat Dale Henry in November.

Wikipedia reports $250 million of the plant’s funding will come from a large consortium of coal mining and power industry companies.

In the operational phase, the project will generate revenue from the sales of electricity, hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

Revenue would be shared among the project participants (including the U.S. Government) in proportion to their respective cost-sharing percentage.

Notable alliance members include Peabody Energy, Australian-based BHP Billiton and China Huaneng Group.

The project is expected to take 10 years to complete.

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