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It would seem Washington has two goals this coming year: Health Care and Energy. And, if they get to the latter, utility companies want to be ready. In fact, they've already been preparing for what is speculated to be tough restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.

A recent Associated Press article says natural gas will be the "cavalry" in the utility companies' fight against global warming.

Natural gas is becoming the fuel of choice when building new power plants. Just a decade ago it was considered scarce and unreliable. Now, natural gas is both affordable and abundant, and it's at just the time this nation needs it most.

Today, the U.S. gets 44 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. However, it also gets 27 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions from those coal plants. On the other-hand, natural gas emits half the CO2 and right now is already supplying about 25 percent of the nation's power.

The cost of retrofitting existing coal-fired plants with the scrubbers and carbon-capture technology that will be needed under cap and trade legislation will be high. The current price of cleaner natural gas is forcing utilities to scrap plans for new coal plants and retrofitting old ones. Progress Energy in North Carolina and NV Energy Inc. in Nevada are just two on the list of those redirecting funds from coal to natural gas.

NV Energy Inc. CEO Michael Yackira says he and other executives are fearful about meeting future environmental rules.

"It was obvious to us that Congress or the EPA or both were going to act to reduce carbon emissions," said Yackira. "Without understanding the economic ramifications, it would have been foolish for us to go forward."

Switching to natural gas now allows America the time it needs to perfect an energy mix and still carry on our day-to-day lives while being both economical and good stewards of our resources and environment. Running power plants on natural gas buys us the time to test and build large-scale carbon capture for coal and to create solar and wind farms that are viable. Because natural gas is ready now.

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