Twenty four states and the District of Columbia have already implemented a RES. California passed one of the most ambitious ones in 2002, requiring its utilities to obtain 20 percent renewable energy by 2010 and 33 percent by 2030. In contrast, Sen. Jeff Bingaman passed
a RES through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year that
would require utilities to obtain 15 percent renewable energy by 2021.
Environmentalists have attacked this standard for aiming too low,
arguing that it would undo substantive work in states with more
ambitious standards. Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently proposed a more stringent standard of 25 percent by 2025.
rages over which energy sources to include in the standard. Supporters
of a straight RES want to stick to the traditional renewables of solar,
wind, biomass, geothermal, and, in some cases, hydropower. Supporters
of a "clean" rather than "renewable" energy standard want to include
nuclear power, carbon capture-equipped coal plants, and natural gas. In
order to obtain a satisfactorily strict standard, Democrats may have to
compromise on this point.
The Clean Energy Portfolio Standard,
known as CEPS-All, is one potential compromise. This plan would include
nuclear power, natural gas, and coal plants equipped with carbon
capture technology as viable sources of "clean" energy. It would,
however, adhere to Klobuchar's goal of a 25 percent shift by 2025.
conservative line is that a RES would sacrifice a reliable grid, kill
jobs, and raise energy bills. The right-wing Heritage Foundation argues
that renewable energy technologies are underdeveloped and unreliable
and cites its own study that found that a national RES
would raise the average household's electricity bill by 36 percent and eliminate one million jobs.
The liberal Center for American Progress counters
that the Heritage Foundation does not account for the innovation and
improved efficiency that a national RES would spark within the energy
industry. CAP cites an analysis
from the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration, a branch of the
Department of Energy, that estimates a 25 percent renewable
electricity standard would raise electricity prices by up to 3 percent in the next decade, but have a negligible impact by 2030. The analysis also found that such an RES
would cut electricity sector carbon dioxide emissions by 7 to 12
percent by 2030.
If Congress does not
pass cap-and-trade, a renewable electricity standard is the best option
for cutting carbon emissions. By switching to a "clean" rather than
"renewable" electricity standard and opening the door to nuclear
energy, carbon capture-equipped coal plants, and natural gas, Democrats
could achieve a 25 percent standard by 2025. That would
shift the economy toward more sustainable power sources without causing
undue disruption. Electricity prices might rise a bit, but it is
unreasonable to expect a transition away from dirty energy sources to
completely bypass consumers.
On its own, a national RES would not sufficiently reduce our carbon emissions, but it will be an important start.
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