Renewable energy standards will harm African-Americans

Charles Steele Contributor
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Before the August recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) gave up on the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act, which focused on energy efficiency and accountability standards for oil and gas companies. Despite the fact that the bill was watered down from every other energy proposal, and despite the support for an oil-spill bill following the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, he simply couldn’t get enough bipartisan support to pass it.

However, whether or not the bill had the required 60 votes for passage is beside the point. There was something noticeably missing from the bill: a federal renewable energy standard, which Sen. Reid said a month ago could not pass.

Now, with a lame-duck session looming, Sen. Reid says there are two un-named Republicans who would support a federal renewable energy standard and that it is again under consideration for inclusion in energy legislation this fall.

However, as I’ve written here before, it would be best if a federal renewable energy standard was left out.

Given what we know about the potential cost impacts of a renewable energy standard, I believe Sen. Reid was wise to leave it out of the last iteration of the energy bill. We are just now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of the difficult recession. Any U.S. senator—especially those from particularly struggling states—would be foolish to vote for a measure that would increase energy costs.

In May, the Heritage Foundation released a study that shows the cost impacts of a 15 percent renewable energy standard by 2020. They found that such a standard would raise energy prices 36 percent for households and 60 percent for industry.

The cost increases will result from a number of factors, including the high cost of renewable energy sources in comparison to traditional sources, the high cost of transmission of renewable sources to areas that don’t produce them, and the mishaps that result from the inherent unreliability of sources like wind and solar. For example, the average family of four that gets their electricity from coal pays on average $188.60 per month for electricity. In comparison, the average family of four that gets their electricity from on-shore wind, one of the cheaper renewable sources, pays on average $339.80 per month for electricity.

In my work with low-income and minority families in the South, I know that many people cannot afford such a drastic increase in their energy bills. Further, when industry sees their energy bills climb 60 percent, they will cut even more jobs in order to stay afloat.

I truly applaud the U.S. Senate for working hard to find an energy solution for our country. The rising costs of energy combined with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico prove that we do need to think carefully about our country’s energy future. The goal should be to find ways to affordably and reliably power America’s homes and businesses—and I know that a renewable energy standard will do no such thing.

Hopefully, when Senators return from their summer vacations, they will not rush to include a federal renewable energy standard in any energy bill brought up for consideration.  Rather, they should work to find a solution that everyone can afford and support.

Dr. Charles Steele is the president of Working People for Fair Energy and a former Alabama state senator.