WASHINGTON — Whoever prevails in November's election in the 23rd Congressional District, nuclear energy may be a winner.
Other aspects of energy policy, though, might face a dim future.
Each of the three candidates vying to represent the region says he is committed to resuming the construction of nuclear power plants, perhaps in Oswego County. To break the three-decade lull will require faster permitting and less costly construction which Congress can help develop, they say.
In telephone interviews, Matthew A. Doheny, Douglas L. Hoffman and Rep. William L. Owens called expanded nuclear power an important part of Northern New York's energy mix. Mr. Doheny, the Republican nominee, and Mr. Hoffman, the Conservative, stressed it most — and Mr. Doheny suggested that many other alternative sources, including biofuels, solar and wind, appear less viable without government assistance or subsidies, an approach he said he does not support in the long run.
"Chief among the alternatives is nuclear," Mr. Doheny said. "It's safe, it's reliable."
To Mr. Hoffman, nuclear energy is a way the United States gains energy independence. Oswego, which already has three nuclear power plants, could probably accommodate one or two additional ones, he said. "Nuclear puts people to work immediately," he said.
Mr. Owens said he is "clearly very supportive" of nuclear energy and that technology is being developed for smaller, cheaper plants. "I think we do have to look at that," he said.
The Obama administration has made moves in favor of nuclear power, most recently approving loan guarantees for two reactors to be built in Georgia.
Nuclear power is just a piece of a much broader debate bound to resurface in the next Congress. If the past is an indication, lawmakers will argue mostly about carbon dioxide, climate change and how much to expand oil drilling and where — the Deepwater spill in the Gulf of Mexico adding more fuel to the anti-drilling fight.
Sharp divisions may continue to hold up progress no matter which party controls Congress. And at least one energy industry official, the chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric Co., has taken lawmakers to task for the political atmosphere.
Jeffrey Immelt told a conference in Washington several days ago that partisanship is keeping the United States behind China and other countries in development of clean energy and that the country needs more nuclear energy — a position Mr. Doheny and Mr. Hoffman cheer — but also needs a long term price on carbon emissions and a cap-and-trade approach to carbon regulation, which those candidates have opposed.
In addition, the House Agriculture Committee, on which Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, sits, will take on biofuels in next year's five-year measure that outlines agriculture policy. The 2007 farm bill included expanded programs to boost crop-based fuel, but some of those programs have been slow to catch on, and lawmakers will have to decide whether to continue them, change them or let some expire.
"There can't be things that don't make sense on the ground," Mr. Owens said. We have to make sure the process makes logical sense."
While some alternatives, such as geothermal power, appeal to Mr. Hoffman, he and Mr. Doheny took a more skeptical view of the wide range of sources some lawmakers say they want the government to support.
"In terms of all the alternative energy, it has to stand on its own," Mr. Doheny said.
Corn-based ethanol, which the farm lobby once touted and which survived mainly by government fuel mandates, damages carburetors, said Mr. Hoffman, a classic-car collector.
Rather than subsidize certain energy sources, Mr. Hoffman said, "the proper role of government is to encourage private development and reduce red tape."
Both challengers took a shot at the energy-related aspects of the 2008 economic stimulus. Mr. Doheny took issue with home weatherization funding, saying subsidies to help homeowners with such projects are "not in the Constitution," although St. Lawrence County alone received more than $3 million in stimulus funds to better protect homes against the cold.
Mr. Hoffman said some of the stimulus money that went to hometown projects "should have gone to getting nuclear plants up."
Mr. Owens, for his part, sees the government as an active partner that needs to keep an eye on research in order to decide which new energy sources are worth pursuing. Criticizing government subsidies is "an easy answer," he said, but "clearly there has got to be an overarching policy."
RACE TO THE FINISH LINE
Each Sunday, the Watertown Daily Times is analyzing the issues and races that shape the 2010 elections.
n Today: Energy policy
n Oct. 10: Economy, small business and agriculture
n Oct. 24: Health reform and senior issues
n Oct. 3: 47th and 48th Senate districts
n Oct. 17: 23rd Congressional District