20 percent by 2020?

Congressman Tom Udall (D-NM) just introduced House Bill 969 which, to put one to sleep like all good legislation,

proposes to “amend title VI of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 to establish a Federal renewable energy portfolio standard for certain retail electric utilities and for other purposes.”

Renewable is full-spectrum here — solar (including solar water heating), wind, ocean, tidal, geothermal energy, biomass, landfill gas or incremental hydropower.

Some 21 states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) — this would make it nation-wide and reasonable ambitious but not something unachievable. 

A 2004 Union of Concerned Scientist analysis of a similar bill calculates the multiple benefits from a national portfolio standard: By 2020, a 20 percent RPS would create 355,000 jobs — nearly twice as many as electricity from fossil fuels would generate; competition from renewable energy generators would lower electricity and natural gas prices, saving consumers more than $49 billion on their energy bills; and farmers, ranchers and rural landowners would earn more than $16 billion in new income.

Okay, anyone want to explain to my 8-year old daughter while this is a bad idea?


6 responses to “20 percent by 2020?

  1. I really wish that rather than mandates they’d use goals and incentives.

    Putting an additional tax on gasoline to represent its real geopolitical cost relative to the trade deficit; relative to the cost of feeding and arming enemies of the US; and relative to real environmental consequence; seems a smart way to level the playing field for our local production of ethanol, bio-diesel and other alternative fuels.

    Accurately indexing fuel costs to the real geopolitical and environmental costs will let the market take care of this problem. Throw in a bit of propaganda to encourage patriotism at the pump and you’ve got a winning formula.

    Mandates and controls screw with the markets though; and result in polarization, gouging and the profiteering of various interests at the expense of the consumer and of the health of the economy overall.

  2. Well, I can see my path to a geopolitical gasoline tax.

    And, well, I am a supporter of a Global Warming Impact Fee (a GWIF?) (think carbon tax, but a fee for polluting the air my children breath).

    With such fiscal incentives, unclear that the mandates would be fully required.

  3. When you consider that an added $1.00 per gallon may have cost consumers about $800 per year and all the grumbling that accompanied the $3 a gallon price tag, those who think gas isn’t high enough is living in another universe. That’s why mandates have to be imposed. Not that I’m supporting mandates.
    As an example, government mandates for ethanol without the market being prepared caused prices to artificially rise. Just as it’s doing to corn prices now. An argument can be made that these are only temporary – even if that means years. But facts are facts and there just isn’t enough corn in the system to reach goals established by the government. So if you want to level the playing field import it from countries that can best produce it at the most efficient cost.

  4. George,

    Multiple comments to respond to:

    1. Gas tax, if imposed, clearly not enough to change habits. How much did Americans reduce their gasoline use with, basically, a doubling of fuel prices? Roughly 3% (taking away what might have been an increase, roughly 5% perhaps). This is not enough, even if the revenues could do something.

    2. Personally, I like RPS. At the end of the day, wind — for example — is fiscally competitive with all but coal without a carbon tax. Lets keep the 25+% momentum in wind and the 40+% solar electricity momentum going. RPS will help that. And, RPS standards provide certainty for business planners as to minimum targets.

    3. RE ethanol … we don’t have enough viable land worldwide to do massive ethanol (corn, sugar cane, or otherwise) without literally taking the food out of babies. The mistaken emphasis on (corn-based) ethanol and E85 is, in my opinion, truly sad. These are resources that we could better spend in other ways.

  5. Nobody is betting on corn for ethanol… everyone is betting cellulosic; and since we need a large supply liquid fuel ethanol will top the list as a gasoline alternative for the near future; barring any major developments on the other fronts.

    I think a gas tax to pay for sending the army around the world every decade or so to protect our oil interests makes a lot of sense. Underwriting a market that profits our enemies has a great cost. Since 40% of our trade deficit is energy; that also has a high cost in that the money could be going directly to American Farmers rather than Mad Mullahs. There’s a greater ecological consequence to a spill of gasoline vs. ethanol… that has a cost.

    All of these should be indexed to the cost of gasoline; otherwise government is underwriting the cost of gasoline at the expense of other alternatives.

    Also part of what you must consider is that the fixed infrastructure costs of gasoline are already paid for. To compare apples to apples merits of one or the other you must also consider this advantage of gasoline over an infant ethanol industry.

  6. There’s a great advantage to the carrot vs. the stick. If you make things easier to do right than they are to do wrong you don’t have to invest non-value-added dollars in control.

    Just leveling up the playing field between gasoline and alternatives by letting consumers feel the real price of gasoline at the pump while at the same time offering inducements for alternatives that are in our geo-political and environmental interests creates a situation where it is easier for the producers and consumer to do right rather than wrong without the fits and surges of both sides trying to capitalize on arbitrary mandates.

    Technology (and political consequences) have evolved beyond the oil and gasoline market and people will do the right thing without painful and expensive controls that tend to polarize political extremes. I’d personally pay more for a fuel it I knew the money was going into the pockets of American farmers rather than evil regimes that wish our country harm. And I think you’d find a broad consensus across both ends of the political spectrum who would also.

    Everybody from both sides wants control though… that’s the problem these days… we waste so much money on non-value-added control when we should be aligning the goals of the country (environmental goals) with the goals of the consumers and businesses.

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