Reduced Renewable Energy Mandate in Play

By Published On: September 24, 2010

Federal legislation setting a national renewable standard for utilities made a comeback this week. A group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill September 21 to require electricity providers’ portfolio be made up of 3 percent alternative energy resources by 2013, and constitute 15 percent of their power supplies by 2021. The federal measure would not affect state programs, according to legislative authors. The proposed bill’s levels are well below California’s 20 percent renewable mandate set for 2013, and the 33 percent renewable rule set for 2020 approved by the California Air Resources Board September 23. Renewable and energy efficiency advocate Ken Bossong said the initial federal renewable mandate is being met. “However, inasmuch as the near-term targets have already been surpassed and the longer-term targets are easily achievable, any criticism or opposition by those who might suggest the renewable electricity targets would be costly, unrealistic, or otherwise burdensome should be dismissed as being disingenuous at best,” he added. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), one of the bill authors, thinks a majority of lawmakers in the Senate and House support a renewables supply requirement. “I think we need to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward,” he stated. A national renewable energy standard “will drive investments now sitting on the sidelines into America’s clean energy industries,” added Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. In addition to Bingaman, this bipartisan bill is coauthored by Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Udall (D-CO). States with large coal power industries have thwarted previous attempts at setting a federal renewable energy mandate. Supplies considered renewable under the revived effort include wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, garbage incineration and ocean power, as well as increased power from existing hydropower facilities. In California, hydropower plants larger than 30 MW are not counted as renewable. Large hydro was excluded because of the facilities impact to aquatic ecosystems. Another difference is that in California garbage incineration was excluded because it releases hazardous air toxins. The federal bill includes various renewable supply compliance options; including substituting energy efficiency gains, and the buying renewable energy and/or efficiency credits. Also allowed in lieu of increasing the renewable portion of an energy portfolio, a utility could pay a compliance fee of 2.1 cents/kWh, with the funds used to offset ratepayer utility bills. The legislation goes straight onto the calendar, bypassing the “routine order” of the committee process, under Rule 14, considered a common Senate procedural move. In the Senate, it is the exclusive prerogative of the majority leader to decide if, and when, there will be a vote.

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