Energy

The Senate should reject the federal renewable energy standard bill

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).