Where’s the fight for renewable power?

Words leaking from behind closed doors about the Energy Bill are, well, to anyone who cares about an Energy Smart future simply foul language. According to the New York Times,

Reaching agreement on that timetable is likely to require Congressional leaders to drop provisions like a mandate that electric
utilities nationwide generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources, including wind, solar and hydroelectric power. Utilities lobbied intensively against that requirement.

A House-passed measure to repeal $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry is also expected to be scrapped, aides said. President Bush threatened to veto the entire package if the oil and gas tax bill were included.

The utilities have spoken. 

Mr. 26% has spoken.

And, Congress has capitulated.

Well, it is time for someone to say: BRING IT ON, Mr Unpopular!

All of this being done for being able to brag about achieving an energy bill? For getting into law a weak 35 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard requirement for 2020?

It is time for Congressional Democrats to stand up and be counted: for the citizens, for our economic future, for taking a path away from our headlong rush down the ever warmer globe path. 

The $16 billion from ending the tax subsidies would fund minor things like:

  • the extension of the renewable energy Production Tax Credit (which encourages the solar and wind industry in the US–its frail status is one of the major reasons Europe and Asia are now where those industries reside)
  • the establishment of ARPA-E — advanced energy research
  • funding for solar, biofuel, geothermal, hydrothermal, CCS, global climate change, biomass, wind, and tidal research
  • funding for public transit and commuter rail improvements
  • funding for building efficiency and industrial efficiency demonstration projects

Hmmm … is this one of the items from the 100 hour agenda that, well, won’t make it to the President’s desk due to a threatened veto?  Can’t anyone realize that Mr 26% might not have 26% support for a veto of this?

Renewable Portfolio Standard

The Renewable Portfolio Standards provide a critical path toward gradually driving up the renewable component of the US electrical system, creating a path toward retiring out our coal-fired electricity.

What is a Renewable Power Standard?

The Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a flexible, market-driven policy that can ensure that the public benefits of wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy continue to be recognized as electricity markets become more competitive. The policy ensures that a minimum amount of renewable energy is included in the portfolio of electricity resources serving a state or country, and — by increasing the required amount over time — the RPS can put the electricity industry on a path toward increasing sustainability. Because it is a market standard, the RPS relies almost entirely on the private market for its implementation. Market implementation will result in competition, efficiency and innovation that will deliver renewable energy at the lowest possible cost.

In short, an RPS provides guidance to electric utilities as to what percentage of their power (at a minimum) must be derived from renewable resources.  The utilities, in essence, can then determine how best to meet that renewable power requirement. And, all consumers share in the costs (if they exist) to reach that renewable power generation level, just as they share in the benefits (such as reduced pollution and economic development).

Why do we care?

The RPS provides a path for creating an upwards — guaranteed — glide slope of demand for renewable power generation.  A nationwide RPS (even if inadequate at 15% by 2020) would help to foster this upward path of ever increasing renewable power generation.

Currently, polluters have a free ride. It is the Tragedy of the Commons, there is no current path where fossil-fuel power generators pay for the greater damage they create. It is in the common good to increase renewable power generation, but right now that increase relies too much on the good will of individuals (who buy green power or invest in renewables on their own homes) rather than sharing the costs, risks, benefits, and rewards over a larger base.

Truth be told, in the long term (cost to own), the RPS will lead to a far less expensive electrical system (with lowered fuel costs, reduced health impact, more economic activity surrounding renewable power) but it is the hurdle cost of the cost to buy (that capital investment in wind turbines, for example) that too often keeps us from enough investment in renewables.

For a short presentation re RPS from a business/financial perspective, see this slide show from the Regulatory Assistance Project.

So, if they’re so good, why don’t we have them?

Actually, many of us do (much of US does) have RPS.  As of Feb 2007, 23 states had Renewable Power Standards.  We’re now up to 25. The RPS numbers can be somewhat confusing, for example, New York’s RPS requires 24 percent renewable power by 2013. That sounds quite impressive until realization sets in that this counts the 19% of New York’s electricity that currently comes from existing hydro-electric dams.  Hmmm … Well, five percent new renewables is a nice, but not overwhelming aggressive, target.  In any event, the 25 states have RPS standards for the 2020 that range from 10% (Delaware, 2019) to 25% (Minnesota, 2025).

The benefit of this legislation: the other 25 states (plus territories). And, it would set a minimum bar which we could then work to improve.  (After all, Governor Richardson has called for 30% by 2020 RPS, nationwide, as part of his call for an Energy Revolution.)

Is this going to be hard to achieve?

As mentioned, this is not a stringent or particularly tough goal. The 20% should be easily achievable, but it provides a path for encouraging continued movement toward renewable power generation.  From a comment by retrograde:

Such an achieveable target. Just look a few European nations that very recently got into wind power, and see how they are doing:

Electricity production from
Non-hydro renewables
Nation 2000 2006
Spain 2.2% 9.9%
Portugal 0.5% 7.9%
Ireland 1.1% 6.6%

And the USA? 2.2% in 2000, which dropped to 1.0% by 2006 due to decomissioning of some geothermal. I think 20% from wind alone would make a great 2020 target.

Call your Representatives. Call other politicians. Use resources like the Green Power Network to find how, for just a cent or two more per kWh, you can buy green power yourself.

Well, if you care about this, perhaps you can take a moment to help SaveOurEnvironment. Please.

Seize the day. Fight the battle.

The New York Times also reported (opined, actually)

“For Democrats, the goal of energy policy is largely about reducing oil consumption and has become inseparable from the goal of reducing the risk of climate change.

For the Republican candidates, energy policy is primarily about producing more energy at home — more oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; more use of American coal to produce liquid fuel; and, as with Democrats, more renewable fuels like ethanol.”

How about a more accurate framing?

  • Democrats care about security and prosperity for today and tomorrow: thus moving toward a broader energy portfolio (renewables, etc) and more efficiency with the equipment made by Americans and installed by Americans rather than dollars sent overseas. 
  • Republicans care about lining their supporters’ pockets, truthiness to confuse voters, and care less about tomorrow.  Thus, emphasis is on getting as much fossil fuel, as soon as possible, so that Exxon-Mobil can see greater profits, and tomorrow be damned.

 But this framing battle won’t be fought.  Republicans won’ t be force to filibuster. Mr. 26% won’t face reporters’ questions about why Exxon-Mobil requires more tax subsidies. No, the Energy Bill will go forward. Go forward with weakened renewable energy elements. And, well, oh there will be promises to revisit them in early 2008.  With those promises and $4, you can buy a Starbucks’ coffee.

One response to “Where’s the fight for renewable power?

  1. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

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