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Published on September 25th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


The Good News About the Proposed Renewable Energy Standard

September 25th, 2010 by  

States that already meet or exceed Renewable Energy Standards of 15% by 2021 would not be held back by the latest Democratic attempt to pass nationwide legislation requiring that utilities at least provide a minimum supply of clean energy.

Enviros are dismayed by the feeble requirements in Senator Bingaman’s Renewable Energy Standard S 3813 (pdf), because many states already exceed 15% by 2020 requirement. However, that misses the intent of the bill. This bill pretty much just addresses just the 15 coal states that don’t have any RES legislation, the states that are the equivalent of “clunkers”.

States that currently lack any clean energy requirements would now have to at least meet the federal requirement under this legislation, as Senator Bingaman (D-NM) said this week, once again reintroducing his hardy perennial Renewable Energy Standard.

At least five of the 15 get over 90% of their electricity from coal. To get the worst states to begin to switch to clean power is not easy. A little teaspoon for the first taste is fine. It gets them investigating it. Hard-core coal states are not going to suddenly embrace clean power, like the Green States do. But getting them to start, just a bit, is key.

This is why it doesn’t matter that the new RES is not at the cutting edge of Renewable Energy Standards. Federal policy is not needed to drive the Green states. On the contrary, it is needed to finally get the 90% coal-powered Kentuckys and Alabamas to try clean energy. Because they just might find that it’s really not so bad. A modest RES has led to greatness before.

For example, oil-powered Texas began its voyage to world leadership in wind power with a tiny RES that was so timid as to almost seem more like a quota (to forbid them to make more than 3%).

Iowa began with an RES requiring only about half an average coal plant’s supply of clean power for the state: 105 MW. Feeble. Yet by 2009, it made more than 10% of the entire state’s electricity just from wind power. In 2010, that leaped to 15% of its electricity, just from wind.

The legislation assigns credits to utilities for meeting their mandates, and will punish those that don’t. Bad utilities will have to pay good utilities for their credits. Building clean energy on Indian lands is worth two credits.

Adding more clean energy from distributed sources (up to a MW) is worth three credits. Under that kind of incentive to add more distributed energy, utilities in every state would be as motivated as they are in California and New Jersey, to help pay you to get those solar panels on your roof, because that would help their bottom line.

Utilities would pay a penalty of over 2 cents for every kilowatt hour sold that did not meet their mandate.

The Democrats have attempted to pass a Federal RES at least six or seven times over the last ten years. In the meantime, tired of waiting, more and more states simply enacted their own. Now a solid majority of states have a RES. The remaining 15 dirty states that would be affected by this legislation are mostly in the South, but also include 90% coal-powered Wyoming, and Idaho.

As a positive sign, this time, there are four Republicans declaring themselves on board, and a fifth is almost inevitable.

The most interesting is Senator Brownback (R-KS) from a state which only just signed an RES in 2009. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) is another big change. He has repeatedly joined the Republicans against the RES, as recently as the 2007 attempt (roll call vote) back when it was called an RPS: Renewable Portfolio Standard, or Clean Portfolio Standard.

Senator Grassley (R-IA) has signed on, and he recently said that he would only do so if it was more than just him and the Maine girls. The fact that he has suggests that Grassley and Ensign are solid votes, not just “bra-waving” as we saw from Senator Graham all this year.

Senator Collins (R-ME) is one of two regular supporters of clean power from 55% clean-powered Maine, and so her support is no surprise. Although she made no statement, Maine’s other senator, Snowe (R-ME), will be a 5th Republican. The two from Maine have always joined Democrats in every vote on clean energy over the last decade.

Two or three of the current Democrats will possibly defect. Senator Landrieu (D-LA) has routinely voted with Democrats to pass an RES through the years as in this ’05 attempt (roll call vote). But, upset over the oil moratorium in the Gulf, she is now threatening to join Republicans in opposition. Although she is ranting a bit now, there is no reason for her to hold up the bill.

Senator Nelson (D-NE) is more of a problem. But, with four Republicans now on board, his defection doesn’t matter.

Here’s the math. Take all 59 Democrats, subtract bad Democrats Senator Nelson (D-NE) and Senator Lincoln (D-AR), and even throw in Senator Byrd’s replacement from 90% coal-powered West Virginia — that leaves us 56 good Democrats. Add even four of these Republicans and we now have 60 filibuster-hurdling votes. Add Snowe, and we can even lose another bad Democrat, and still hurdle the Republican filibuster.

If you’re in the South and hoping that your electric utility may soon pay you to put solar on your own roof (as they do in the Green states like New Jersey) in order to meet mandated Renewable Energy Standards, you could soon be in luck.

This modest RES could finally start cleaning up the worst states that provide 80% of the pollution in the US, and are responsible for the vast majority of our national greenhouse gases from electricity.

Image: EPA
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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  • Great article Susan.

    What is important to remember is that something is better than nothing. I am a NJ resident, and our solar production has on average doubled each year since 2001 when the RPS was adopted. A nationwide RPS will help those states that already have RPSs while non-RPS states begin to adopt renewable energy. It will provide new buyers of RECs, strengthening an already strong market (stronger financial markets… that must resonate with Republicans, right?)

    Thanks for the writeup.

    • I wish Republicans could get it. But the Fourth Estate is totally split. Now there’s separate news and facts for Republicans (from Fox, CATO, The Heritage Foundation, WSJ) and for the rest of us.

      Their news is so filtered through what the traditional extractive energy industry wants them to know, that they are ignorant, stumbling around the Internet, baffled by contradictory information on sites like this, that are not beholden to the fossil industry.

  • excellent commentary on this proposal, Susan.

    nice, thorough piece.

  • Well, not quite so simple. Under the Bingaman RES, those southern states can just buy credits from RES states, producing no additional renewable generation. BUT the ability of many states to meet their RES’ is jeopardized by low price caps, and the crash in gas prices that makes hitting those caps more likely. Also, the stimulus money and loan guarantees are flowing more slowly than anticipated. Thus, even the weak Bingaman RES makes it much more likely that the state standards actually succeed. And local pressure could make southern utilities buy or build some local renewables, adding to demand. Local presssure could also persuade some RES states not to sell surplus credits. So ther’s several avenues by which it could make a difference. Follow me on twitter: @alannogee

    • Well, no; buying credits DOES TOO produce additional clean energy. Look at how NJ has shot to No.2 in solar rooftops by simply allowing residents to sell clean energy credits generated off their roofs. When people can earn money off their roof, they are much more inclined to put solar on it.


      And adding 15 new dirty states-full of utilities needing to buy credits or pay 2 cents penalty per every kilowatt-hour – will only increase that push. Note that the bill specifies “distributed” energy as worth 3 credits. Distributed = your roof.

  • I guess this is good news for the simple fact that many of these states are even moving towards RES, especially the oil and coal states, this something to behold. I think solar is the best way to go, we have technology in place and advancing everyday, if we could only improve on the storage aspect of solar power, we could put coal out of business.

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