By Susan Stabley
Charlotte Business Journal
November 15, 2013

Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, kicked off the Charlotte Chamber’s Energy Summit on Friday with a series of compliments.

“You are truly becoming the energy center of the world because of the concentration of companies here,” Whitman told a packed room at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.

Whitman added that the area’s success was also due to the “brain trust” of universities and colleges here as well as the work of the Charlotte Chamber. The former governor of New Jersey visited UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center on Thursday. This morning, she told the chamber audience that EPIC was “enormously impressive.”

The chamber’s Energy Summit started about a half hour later than expected because of Vice President Joe Biden was also at the Ballantyne hotel this morning. Whitman quipped to the Chamber crowd of about 250 attendees that she appreciated the added security.

Whitman, a Republican, was the first female governor of New Jersey, serving from 1994. President George W. Bush appointed her as EPA administrator in 2001 and she held the post through 2003. She’s president of the Whitman Strategy Group, which consults on energy and environmental issues. And she’s the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which advocates for increasing the use of nuclear energy.

The Carolinas’ nuclear cluster is a $25 billion industry. Since 2007, about 25 energy companies in the Charlotte region have announced 4,200 jobs, according to the chamber.

Whitman says energy generation is one of the critical issues — and decisions — that will affect the U.S. economy.

“You are at the heart of where much of that is going to take place.” Whitman said.

Energy needs in the United States are expected to grow 28 percent by 2040, Whitman said in her keynote speech.

“2040 may seem a long time away, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s yesterday as far as utilities are concerned.”

No single source or effort is enough, she said. Instead, it will take “a real mix of energy sources” and conservation to meet these demands.

“That perhaps is one of the biggest challenges we have to help people understand,” Whitman said. “We in this country particularly love the single-source solution. If you tell us to do this one thing to solve a problem, we can do that better than anybody else in the world.”

But that won’t work in the energy sector, she said. Multiple sources have to be employed and new ones discovered.

And that includes tapping into the nation’s supply of natural gas via fracturing, or “fracking,” a method of natural gas drilling that has spurred environmental concerns in other states. It has been said that any new power plant construction in the Carolinas is likely to involve natural gas.

“We are taking advantage of that, and we should be,” Whitman said of natural gas. “It only makes sense when we have a lot of it and the prices is going down. But we mustn’t neglect the future. We have to be careful not to assume that is what will last forever.”

And while natural gas is cleaner than other sources such as coal, it still produces pollutants, Whitman said.

She took the opportunity to advocate nuclear power as the best long-term solution to providing reliable and inexpensive electricity while mitigating against climate change and protecting clean air.

And access to inexpensive, clean and reliable energy is an important factor considered by a businesses looking to open or relocate operations. Just as important is quality of life for the company’s employees, she said.