Policy & Regulation

Senate introduces stand alone renewable energy standard bill

Washington, D.C., September 23, 2010 — Following the failure of previous energy legislation in Congress, a bipartisan group of six Senators introduced a bill to establish a federal renewable energy standard.

Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act.

The proposed legislation would install a renewable portfolio standard (or renewable electricity standard, in D.C. parlance) requiring states to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.

Electricity retailers that sell fewer than 4 million MWh are exempted from the bill’s standard. Qualifying generation technologies under the bill are wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, waste-to-energy, hydrokinetic and new hydropower at existing dams.

There are currently 36 states in the Union that already have some form of renewable portfolio standard, alternative energy portfolio standard or renewable energy goal, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

These “patchwork” state-level standards vary widely in their target dates, generation targets and technologies that count toward the goal.

North Carolina’s RPS, for example, requires a 12.5 percent renewable energy standard by 2021, and allows solar power, wind power, hydropower, geothermal energy, wave and tidal energy, biomass and energy efficiency.

New York’s RPS has the goal of 25 percent renewable generation by 2013, and allows biomass, biofuel, hydro, solar, ocean, wave, tidal and wind.

States that lack renewable energy plans are Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Alaska.

Early critics of the Senate legislation point out that the targets set by the act are actually lower than the amount of non-hydro renewable electricity already being generated today.

These sources increased 13 percent during the first six months of 2010 over the amount generated during the first half of 2009, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Wind-generated electricity increased by 21.4 percent; electricity from solar thermal and photovoltaics rose by 16.4 percent; wood & other forms of biomass rose by 4.5 percent; and geothermal output increased by 0.8 percent.

Efforts by Democrats to push forward the Senate’s major climate change bill, which included a cap-and-trade mechanism to lower carbon dioxide emissions, stalled in mid-July after the bill failed to attract Republican support.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced more modest legislation without a federal RPS or cap and trade in the Senate in late July. However this bill also failed to attract the bipartisan support needed to move it forward.

President Barack Obama, who set his goal as a candidate on a federal RPS of 25 percent by 2025, has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide directly if no legislative fix is possible. In response, the EPA has issued rules requiring power plants to obtain permits for their carbon dioxide emissions.