Opinion

The Senate should reject the federal renewable energy standard bill

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Lance Brown
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      Lance Brown

      Executive Director of PACE, Lance Brown is a native of Selma, Alabama, and a veteran of Southeastern politics. Before creating PACE, he helped lead the charge for children’s healthcare as a policy advisor in the Alabama Governor’s Office and helped central Alabama communities prepare for a new Hyundai plant as the Assistant Director of his state’s Center for Economic Growth. In recent years, he has remained active in regional politics and worked as an advertising executive.
      Lance received an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Masters in Public Administration from Auburn University Montgomery. He is a Harry S. Truman Scholar and was named a USA Today Academic All-American, both firsts at his university.

As Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and a host of special interest groups continue their relentless push for a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), one can only hope the lack of broad-based public support for the measure will again lead to the controversial and economically unsound legislation’s rejection.

A federal renewable energy standard will cause energy prices to skyrocket and jobs to diminish. Lower-income and minority families, particularly in areas like the Southeast and other more traditional energy dependent states, will feel the brunt of the impact.

Opposition to a federal RES is broad based, particularly among those members of Congress who represent these constituencies. Even in the face of new pro-RES campaign ads, members of Congress have been outspoken in their offering of alternative views. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) has publically stated that he believes a federal electricity mandate will be costly and threatens coal dependant states like Indiana. Bayh stated, “I have supported many efforts to promote this, including tax credits for companies that produce renewable energy and create green jobs. The costs of this approach are borne equally by every American taxpayer. The approach adopted by the committee – requiring every state to produce at least 15 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2021 or pay a fine – threatens utility ratepayers in states that rely on coal, such as Indiana.”

Recently, one of Senator Bayh’s colleagues, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), commented, “There would be no reason for me to vote for a bill that would either produce more energy or save it without taking care of the coast that’s producing the most of it now,” and that she wouldn’t consider an RES bill as a stand-alone measure, even though that seems to be the preferred option of the pro-wind crowd that is pushing this renewable energy industry bailout.

Arkansas Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor have both expressed reservations about RES. Sen. Pryor acknowledged RES has encountered growing resistance in the Senate, saying “An RES can get difficult because different states see that differently. That is more of a regional issue,” adding that Arkansas would want its large nuclear power plants recognized as clean low-emission energy resources. And Sen. Lincoln, the chair of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, fears “the South could be left ‘high and dry’ due to exclusion of nuclear and hydropower.”

The Senate GOP Leadership also stands in opposition to an RES. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said a renewable energy mandate would lead to utility rate increases and said McConnell “does not support an electricity rate hike, particularly in the middle of a recession.”

Given this vocal opposition, especially in the face of a massive paid television ad campaign, it is clear that Congress should very carefully debate this measure and not rush to a quick judgment in a way that would pick “winner” and “loser” states based on the preferred types of energy sources. A federal renewable energy standard, particularly in this economic climate, is simply too costly. And even if the handful of RES supporters in the Senate do not share that view, they should at least consider the valid concerns of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who have real reservations about a federal RES.

Lance Brown is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Affordable Energy (PACE).

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  • pickles

    “one can only hope the lack of broad-based public support for the measure”

    This is completely untrue. Every poll on the matter shows support for a renewable energy standard north of 75%

    • johno413

      Could you cite or link to just one?

  • johno413

    You highlight all the reasons why the federal government would fail, once again, by forcing policy that is most effective at the states level. As this author likely knows, there are some states that have met or are on track to meet the ratio of renewable energy (RE) generation this legislation would mandate. The convergence of political will, acceptance by enough of the electorate, and the physical ability to install and operate RE systems make them successful. Regarding the physical, most of those states are well suited for wind and solar systems, and those installations operate with decent and economical capacity factors. (Economical in the sense of meeting original cost expectations).

    Many southern states are bad candidates for the same systems. Nuclear has been and is the best option for large capacity without emissions. To the most ardent carbon-heads, it isn’t as carbon neutral as wind and solar, and so they resist it. However, omitting nuclear as an option after years and years of success and after proving its impact on electricity costs, is a pure ideological and political folly. And worst of all, the most aggressive detractors of nuclear power have been successful at creating the most dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. Preventing the proper long-term storage of waste and then citing that as a significant impediment to any new construction, defies logic.

    So, as usual, the higher up the governing chain, the less the elected class feels accountability to any one individual, and the more ideological the decision. Keeping such standards at state and municipal levels is the best way to achieve goals. The Southeast might follow the pattern of France, which gets 78% of its energy from nuclear, and is the largest vendor of electricity to Europe. The West and Pacific Northwest might follow a pattern more like Spain or Germany, and install more wind and solar, with a dab of geothermal thrown in. At the local level, the proper balance between installation (proportion of RE) and cost is best assured. Some states may be able to reach 25% without excessive cost, as judged by the rate payers. With nuclear, even greater non-coal and non-gas numbers are most likely.