A one-size-fits-all renewable energy standard will cause more problems than it solves

Lance Brown Contributor
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Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its review of the American Power Act proposed by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). The analysis is conveniently rosy, and the sponsors are eagerly promoting the EPA’s finding that the average household will face an average estimated cost increase of only $79, to $146.

The truth, however, is that the bill that the EPA examined is far different from the bill that will eventually be voted on in Congress.

The current draft of the American Power Act focuses on cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 by setting a price on carbon that would increase with inflation, in addition to restricting carbon use. The bill also includes consumer protections, transportation energy standards, and tax credits for construction of nuclear power plants, among other provisions. The bill does not include a renewable energy standard, which would require states to obtain a certain percentage of energy from government-mandated “renewable” sources. Studies overwhelmingly show that a renewable energy standard would raise electricity bills and cost jobs across America.

But Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated time and again that the American Power Act will be amended to include a renewable energy standard. He has vocally supported the idea of incorporating Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) stand-alone renewable energy standard legislation into Sen. Kerry’s and Sen. Lieberman’s bill. Sen. Bingaman’s proposal calls for 15 percent of each state’s energy to come from government-mandated renewable sources by 2021.

The problem with this proposal, as I’ve written here many times, is that many states don’t have adequate access to the resources that would fall under the “renewable” classification, like wind and solar energy. Though wind energy works for some states, like North Dakota and Texas, it is unreliable in the majority of states as it requires wind to constantly blow. Even North Dakota, the state with the highest potential wind capacity, only gets about 5 percent of its energy from wind, and relies on traditional sources like coal and natural gas for much of its supply.

In addition to the reliability issue, these renewable sources are astronomically expensive in comparison to traditional sources. The electricity produced by wind and sunlight is 90 times more expensive than the electricity produced by fossil sources like coal. States that don’t have ready access to renewable sources will see their electricity prices go through the roof when they have to pay to import the expensive sources, too.

In the wake of the Gulf Coast tragedy, it is increasingly apparent that we must create a diverse portfolio of energy sources for our country. We cannot continue on our current path of dependency on a few resources, especially when those resources have so much potential to harm us and our environments. By favoring a few energy sources over others, we’ll create more dependency and cost issues at a time when we cannot afford to remain dependent or pay higher energy bills.

It’s thus increasingly apparent that a one-size-fits-all renewable energy standard will cause more problems than it solves. Above all, it will cause energy costs to rise as many states struggle to gain access to the renewable sources cherry-picked by the government.

The EPA has done good research on the American Power Act, and it’s clear that there are aspects of the bill that would be beneficial to our energy problem and the country as a whole. But more research must be done, especially on the impact of a renewable energy standard that will surely result when Congress debates the energy plan.

Lance Brown is executive director of PACE.