Could We Still Get a National Renewable Energy Standard This Year?


Image credit: Taylor Dundee via Flickr/CC BY

What just a year ago seemed to be a weak alternative or a mere support beam to good carbon-reducing energy policy is now a pie-in-the-sky longshot. Pricing carbon emissions was the bedrock of the climate bill that passed the House of Representatives last year, and the Renewable Energy Standard that required utilities to get a percentage of their energy from clean sources was a secondary (though still important) complement. After the Senate climate bill officially crashed and burned, there was hope that a RES would be included in the super-scaled down energy bill released instead. It wasn't. But now, some in the Democratic leadership are talking about trying to revive it anyways. Is there a possibility we may yet see some national effort to curb carbon and stimulate clean energy development this year?Like I said -- it's a pie-in-the-sky longshot. And it's yet another reason to hate politics, especially of the modern American variety. Here's why: Like the notion of investing in national transportation infrastructure to create jobs, a renewable energy standard is traditionally bipartisan and uncontroversial. In fact, the last iteration of a national RES was proposed by Republican senator Richard Lugar.

But right now, with the GOP on the verge of a massive wave of victories in the November elections, anything that could be perceived as a victory for the opposing party is considered a non-starter. It's why Republicans won't consider Obama's infrastructure plan, and it's why even a weak RES (say, utilities must get 15% of their energy from clean sources by 2020) is unlikely to fly.

Nonetheless, something is certainly better than nothing, and it's worth hoping that Dems and Republicans can indeed cooperate on this one. After all, even a small RES would send a signal to clean energy investors that the market will remain hospitable -- statements from investment firms indicate that they'd up their funding of renewable projects by billions of dollars a year. And here's Grist's Dave Roberts explaining more of the benefits of a RES:

What about the economy? Well, the U.S. is mired in a demand-side recession. Factories and workers are laying idle. An RES will spur demand for clean energy up and down an enormous supply chain and spur deployment of private capital without costing the federal budget anything. A quarter of the RES in the Energy Committee bill can be met with energy efficiency, which is also labor intensive and "can't be offshored," as they say.

According to a new report from Navigant Consulting, an RES of 25 percent by 2025 ... would support 274,000 new clean energy jobs. Furthermore, those jobs would be created in every region of the country, including the Southeast, where opposition to an RES tends to be centered.

Is it popular? Any politician should be so popular. Last month in a Pew/National Journal poll a whopping 78 percent of respondents supported an RES, including 70 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Independents. Requiring utilities to use more clean energy has been one of the most reliably popular energy policy options for years.

The only real downside of a standalone RES is that it must be funded independently (without revenues from a carbon-pricing scheme of some sort), but this could be done by a slight bump in the gas tax, or the removal of oil & gas subsidies that Obama seems so keen to do away with these days. Either way, it's entirely worth doing, and any RES is better than none. Let's hope, just this once, the pols agree.

More on Renewable Energy Standards
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