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AEP chief executive preaches importance of alt ernative energy, practicality of coal

The Chief executive officer of American Electric Power spoke on the Ohio State University campus today. The main message: alternative sources of energy still have a ways to go...

American Electric Power is the nation's largest consumer of coal. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they're also the largest producer of carbon dioxide, the gas many say its tied to global warming. Michael Morris has headed the company for the last four years, and vigorously defends the company's environmental record and policies. One example is carbon sequestration, the processing of capturing carbon before it can be released into the environment. He says while the technology exists, it's never been used on the scale of a major power plant.

"AEP is pushing that technology with our partners Alstem, a French firm, as fast as we can," Morris says. "We think that by 2015, we'll have technology that will be deployable across our fleet that will be able to capture the carbon."

And there's the possibility of more wind farms. AEP already has several wind farms in the Great Lakes region.

"We're working on electric-storage technology with a Japanese company on battery technology that will allow wind to be much more energy efficient."

But the discussion kept coming back to conventional coal practices. The U.S. used more than a billion tons of coal last year about 90 percent of that went for the production of electricity. Last year AEP agreed to pay $4.6 billion dollars to upgrade pollution controls and refurbish old power plants. Morris says true, current coal-burning practices, but

"For utilities like AEP and others, we are legally required to have adequate electric supply to satisfy all of the demands for all of our customers. We need to comply with all of those laws."

And the only feasible way to do that, he says, is by burning coal.

"We have all the technology we need today to make the transition toa renewable-based economy. The problems are political, but technological."

Harvey Wasserman is the author of "Solartopia", a book set in the year 2030 after the world has converted to wind, solar and biofuel-based energy.

"Ten years ago people thought wind power was pie-in-the-sky type stuff, Wasserman says. Now what's pie-in-the-sky are exotic technologies like nuclear power, which is a proven failure, and Co2 sequestration, which hasn't been tried and looks to be like a rather doomed-to-fail technology."

Wasserman's dream of a renewable-based energy policy might become at least part true. Ohio legislators are considering bills that would for the first time regulate carbon dioxide power companies to reduce emissions. Ken Rose is an energy consult who's testified before Congress and it also a senior fellow on the Institute for Public Utilities at Michigan State University. He says with or with out the legislation, AEP will be fine. The company is adaptable enough that they would play a big role in any emerging technologies. If the law does not pass

"Most of Ohio, the public utilities will go to market next year. If that happens AEP will do very well because their prices are far below most on the market."