On energy, lawmakers and regulators need to chill out

Lance Brown Contributor
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This summer, at barbecues and baseball games across America, you’ve likely heard one major complaint: it’s hot! If the heat alone wasn’t unbearable enough, many Americans have been hit by skyrocketing energy bills as they crank up the air conditioning.

It’s clear that we need a solution to our country’s energy problems. It’s also clear that we need a broad portfolio of both traditional and renewable sources. The heat wave has demonstrated that if we try to limit our power sources — either through legislation or through regulations — our energy problems will only worsen.

As I recently chronicled on the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) blog, some of the hottest states have experienced record energy usage as a result of the stifling temperatures. Texas, for example, has hit record energy usage levels four times this month — hitting 65,715 megawatts between the hours of 4:00pm and 5:00pm on August 23.

In theory, record-breaking energy usage in Texas should be taken care of easily since the state has the capacity to generate over 9,300 megawatts of wind energy, more than any other state, in addition to other sources of energy. Yet, on August 10, when the energy-usage record hit 63,830 megawatts, only 1.9% of the energy used was generated by wind. To put it another way, when Texas energy consumers needed wind power the most, they could count on less than 13% of the state’s total wind-generation capacity.

Texas is one example of the need to utilize our diverse portfolio of energy sources, uninhibited by a burdensome federal renewable energy standard or regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, either of which would force states to use mandated renewable sources that are often neither abundant nor reliable.

Texas is lucky because it is one of the few states with a wide variety of energy sources, both traditional and renewable. If one source, such as wind power, is not reliable on any given day, there are other available sources from which to obtain energy, like solar or natural gas.

However, other states are not so lucky. Ohio and West Virginia, for example, rely heavily on coal, which is abundant, affordable, and — perhaps most important during a dangerous heat wave — famously reliable. If states are forced to obtain a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources, these states will suffer even more economic hardship.

Still, other states, like Maine, get nearly a third of their energy from sources like biomass, which is under scrutiny by the EPA despite being a renewable and abundant source. Unless the EPA alters its proposed Tailoring Rule as part of its plan to regulate greenhouse gases, biomass will be unfairly lumped with less clean sources, despite being carbon-neutral. Then, if a federal renewable energy standard is ever enacted, the state will face even more economic hardship than it would have otherwise.

It’s clear that the government should not try to limit our energy sources, whether through legislation or through burdensome regulations. We should incorporate renewable energy into our portfolio when it makes economic sense to do so — but it needs to be rolled into a broad portfolio that utilizes the wide variety of available sources in our country, both traditional and renewable.

Without a doubt, this summer has been a hot one. But the real heat is on consumers who could be faced with higher energy prices if our nation takes the wrong approach to energy policy. That’s why it’s time we send a clear message to lawmakers and federal regulators that when it comes to powering our nation: chill out.

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