Energy industry: Give us something solid

Utility execs see carbon restrictions as inevitable, want regulations 'soon rather than later;' seek stability in oil markets; questions linger over nuclear power.

By Steve Hargreaves, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Uncertainty over nuclear power, impending carbon regulation and the desire for predictability in the global oil market are some of the leading issues in the energy industry today, according to executives at some of the world's big energy companies.

At a luncheon Thursday on Wall Street, closed to reporters but opened for a recap and questions later, executives from companies including Royal Dutch Shell (Charts), Entergy (Charts), Duke Energy (Charts) and Saudi Aramco outlined what they saw as some of the major trends unfolding in the near future.

On restricting carbon emissions, some of the major utilities thought federal government restrictions are inevitable, and said clear rules would help them plan future capital projects.

"Our belief is that carbon control is coming," said Cathy Roche, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, the North Carolina-based utility and one of the nation's largest."We want the rules written sooner rather than later, so we can budget our projects."

The Bush administration has resisted calls for mandatory carbon emission caps, relying instead on voluntary cuts. But several states, including a block in the Northeast and California, have gone around the federal government and implemented their own mandatory restrictions.

Carbon dioxide is one of the principle greenhouse gasses.

Certainty was also a theme when talking of nuclear power.

Like renewables, most participants thought nuclear power would play an important part in the world's future energy mix, which won't rely heavily on any one particular fuel or technology but will instead be a broad mix of things.

But some participants noted the big capital investment required to get a nuclear plant up and running, the long time frame involved, and questioned whether current government incentives to build nuclear plants would exist 30 years down the road, when they would still be needed.

Yearning for predictability extended beyond the actions of the U.S. government.

Saudi Arabia was held up as a model example.

John Roberts, an energy security specialist with Platts, the provider of energy information that sponsored the event, said the kingdom pledged $53 billion to expand its oil infrastructure.

"They are putting their money where their mouth is," said Roberts. "They say they are increasing capacity, and there is no reason to think they won't. With other countries, it's much less clear."

Roberts named Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Russia as countries where proper infrastructure investment and/or stable government actions were an issue.

"It's not a question of if you're going to get it," he said. 'It's a question of if you're going to get it predictably."


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