Renewable Energy Standards

A renewable energy standard is a requirement that utilities get a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy. It’s a market-based system: utilities that exceeded the requirement would get credits that they could sell to other utilities who weren’t doing as well, enabling us to meet the standard in the most cost-effective way.

This would be good in a number of different ways: good for the environment, good for our national security, and also, according to both the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), good for consumers (note: RPS means ‘Renewable Portfolio Standard’, which is another name for a renewable energy standard):

“Both the UCS and EIA analyses show that a national RPS can save consumers money in several ways. First, by reducing the demand for fossil fuels, and creating new competitors for the dominant fuel sources, renewable energy helps reduce the price of fossil fuels and restrain the ability of fossil fuel prices to increase in the future. Natural gas therefore costs less for electricity generation, as well as for other purposes, benefiting both electricity consumers and other natural gas consumers. Second, some renewable resources, especially wind energy at good sites, are now less expensive than building new natural gas- or coal-fired power plants over the expected lifetimes of the plants, and reduce projected generation costs. And third, a national RPS reduces the cost of renewable energy technologies, by creating competition among renewable sources and projects to meet the requirements, and by creating economies of scale in manufacturing, installation, operations, and maintenance. Most importantly, projected savings are robust enough to be found in all of the recent RPS scenarios, at both the 10 percent and 20 percent levels, and despite large differences in projected renewable energy costs and performance in the EIA and UCS assumptions.”

It would probably save less money now that oil and natural gas prices are down, but they will rise again. When they do, we’ll be very glad if we took advantage of this drop in demand to cut our reliance on them.

Luckily, a bill creating a renewable energy standard has been introduced in Congress. Unluckily, most Republicans and some “moderate” Democrats oppose it. Luckily, they’re in the minority. Unluckily, that doesn’t mean the bill will pass in the Senate, since the Republicans’ willingness to filibuster every piece of major legislation means that it “needs” 60 votes.

From the NYT:

“A nationwide renewables standard, or RES, is a longstanding pillar of Democratic energy plans that requires utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources such as wind and solar.

With President Obama in the White House and stronger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, enactment of a standard has become more likely but remains far from certain. The Senate magic number of 60 votes, enough to get cloture and bypass a potential filibuster, remain the key hurdle. (…)

The number of Democrats who ultimately back the standard would determine how many GOP votes are needed. Some Republican moderates, including Maine’s two senators, back renewables mandates, while supporters are also eyeing members including Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and others as potential votes in their favor.

Democrats, following gains in last year’s elections, control 58 seats and could see that grow to 59 if Al Franken prevails in the contested Minnesota race. But in recent interviews with E&E, several Democrats expressed misgivings about an RES.

If Bingaman goes through the committee — where Democrats hold a 13-10 majority — the Democratic swing votes are believed to be Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Bingaman would need to carry two of these three, or at least win over one if he also has backing from some GOP members.

Bayh has not committed his vote either way. “I am all for helping promote the use of renewable energy. Whether this is the appropriate mechanism or not remains to be seen,” he said. Asked whether he would vote for Bingaman’s proposal specifically, he replied: “I have not endorsed it yet. That is not a yes or a no. It remains to be seen.”

I really hope this legislation does not end up being yet another victim of Bayh, Lincoln, and Nelson’s desire to prove how very moderate and restrained they are.