RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY STANDARD (RES) = RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARD = RENEWABLE PORTFOLIO STANDARD (RPS)
President Barack Obama, February 9, 2009: "The country that figures out how to make cheaper energy that's also clean, that country is going to win the economic competition of the future…"
One of the next Big Ideas on the Obama administration agenda is a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), also known as a Renewable Energy Standard or as a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).
Because it creates a standard for how much electricity must be obtained from New Energy sources, NewEnergyNews prefers the more precise title of Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). The RPS title is a little arcane, though popular among energy policy insiders. It refers to the idea originally envisioned by the wonks who developed it of a specified amount of New Energy-generated electricity in a utility’s or a state’s “portfolio” of power generation alternatives.
President Obama campaigned on the promise of a national RES requiring all U.S. utilities to obtain 10% of their power from New Energy sources by 2012 and 25% by 2025.
click to enlarge
Congressional proposals are emerging to turn this promise into law. The proposals, in the familiar American way, bring questions.
This is not the first time this debate has been joined. It was part of energy bill debates throughout the last half of the Bush years, and was even passed by the House of Representatives in 2007. Its advocates, however, never had enough Senate votes to pass it and President Bush consistently opposed it. Now, there is a President in the oval office who promised an RES, intends to make good on his campaign promise and the votes may be available in the Senate – for the right standard.
Which, of course, begs the question. Or questions.
Margaret Kriz, staff correspondent, National Journal: “Should Congress require electric companies to use more renewable sources of power? … Is a national renewable electricity standard needed? What percentage of electricity should be renewable? What types of energy sources should be eligible to fill the standard? Should nuclear power be included in the mix? Should a federal standard replace the state programs?”
Standard bearers for the RES will be Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass). Bingaman’s proposal would require 20% of power to come from New Energy sources by 2021. Markey’s House RES requires 25% by 2025.
click to enlarge
There are substantive answers to the questions Kriz asked. There are substantive controversies around the answers. First, there is the states’ rights isasue.
Paul Dickerson, Partner, Haynes and Boone, LLP: “Renewable portfolio standards are a valuable tool to achieve our environment and energy goals, but we shouldn’t be telling states how to manage their energy needs when they are already effectively doing that on their own.”
The first state to have an RES was Iowa, in 1991. At present, some 28 states (and D.C.) have instituted RESs. Political leaders in the states that do not have RESs generally claim they do not have adequate New Energy resources. Their opponents claim the resources are there if the political leaders could tear their loving gazes away from their Old Energy masters long enough to look.
New Energy advocates contend states without adequate New Energy resources could also meet a national RES requirement through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). RECs would be sold by states that produce more New Energy-generated electricity than the RES requires.
Dickerson and other national standard opponents believe it is unwise to require resource-poor states to pay for the development of New Energy by New Energy-rich states. Instead, the argument goes, standards should be set individually by states according to their own resources.
Because Atlantans get brighter light from bulbs running on Georgia biomass-generated electricity or Georgia offshore wind-generated electricity than from Texas plains wind-generated electricity?
Obviously that is a rhetorical question. But even if there were truth in it, it would only be justification for developing Georgia's biomass and offshore wind industries. But don't worry about Texas selling all its wind. Arkansas and Mississippi will be happy to buy Texas wind - until they start harvesting all that power flowing down the Big Muddy to New Orleans.
click to enlarge
Dickerson also raises the question of imposing an extra burden on utilities that must already find the financial resources, estimated to be $1.5 trillion or more, to expand transmission to meet growing national power demand. That is essentially a self-defeating argument.
The new transmission needs to be built. Utilities and other investors are going to pay. Why not make it high-voltage, smart transmission ready to carry New Energy? That way, the savings, job creation and other economic benefits associated with New Energy development come along with the expenditure.
Finally, Dickerson argues for including dirty, nonrenewable Old Energy as part of the RES.
Dickerson: “No matter whether these mandates fall to the states or the federal government, they should include all technology options that can help us in the fight against climate change, and that includes emissions-free nuclear energy and environmentally responsible clean coal.”
The idea of including dirty, nonrenewable Old Energy is repeated in most objections to the RES, raising the question of exactly whose objections these are. It is common to discover that objections to measures that will expand New Energy come not from neutral parties concerned for the future of a nation too dependent on destructive and foreign energy sources but from those with vested interests in those destructive and foreign energy sources.
Be that as it may, the argument – in the case of nuclear energy – has some substance. Nuclear energy does not create greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) while generating electricity. On the other hand, mining it is highly GhG-intensive and because it requires uranium, a finite commodity, it really isn’t renewable at all.
There is no point is considering “clean” coal as part of an RES because there is no such thing as “clean” coal. Perhaps it would be prudent to allow some serious and substantial investment in proving the concept of “clean” coal to count toward meeting a portion of the RES. That might make the national standard more politically obtainable. Such investment would likely only show how impractical and prohibitively expensive "clean" coal is and reveal how GhG-intensive the coal-burning process is even if power plant emissions could be captured.
The other common objection to a national RES is that New Energy does not exist in large enough capacities to meet a national standard. When such a fallacious assumption doesn’t lead back to dirty, nonrenewable Old Energy, it leads to proposals for market-based solutions.
Jay Apt, Professor, Electricity Industry Center/Carnegie Mellon University: “Since no current technology meets all goals, legislators must consider tradeoffs. Specifying the goals, rather than the technologies will lead to a technology race that will serve society.”
Apt suggests substantial alternatives to the RES including (1) management of GhGs as pollution, (2) a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, (3) more efficiency standards and technology, (4) better electricity reliability standards and enforcement, and (5)deployment of diversified generation technologies without mandates. None of these excellent ideas precludes the use of an RES to drive them except the final, optional phrase ("without mandates"). If mandates for controlling pollution, facilitating market action and improving efficiency work, what's wrong with an RES?
click to enlarge
Professor Apt also describes potential problems, even potential blackouts, created by excessive New Energy development and inadequate transmission.
Professor Apt: “…a national RPS without sufficient transmission…[and] abundant renewable resources and low population in [some] areas mean that supply could exceed local demand. Although the grid can handle 20% of its power coming from an intermittent source such as wind, it is well beyond the state of the art to handle 50% or more in one area. At that percentage, supply disruptions become much more likely, and the highly interconnected electricity grid is subject to cascading blackouts when there is a disturbance, even one in a remote area.”
While Professor Apt is technically correct about potential problems, he fails to notice that the country already faces challenges from inadequate transmission. As noted above, an RES would be a big driver to rectify the situation.
In fact, it might be possible to win Senate votes for a national RES from Southeastern recalcitrants by giving their states credit toward fulfillment of the standard in return for development of new high-voltage transmission with "smart" technology potential.
And, while NewEnergyNews wishes the country could be faced with the "problem" of getting 50% of its power from New Energy sources, the fact is that the solar energy industry expects to be at 10% by 2025, the wind energy industry expects to be at 20% by 2030 and the hydrodynamics industry sees 10% as its potential.
Many RES opponents claim it will cause increases in consumer power prices. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) disagrees. Its 2007 study found a 25% by 2025 RES will save consumers $2 billion on cumulative electricity and natural gas bills from 2009 to 2030.
Finally, if the arguments of RES opponents have substance, do they have as much substance as this: The EIA also found that the proposed RES – alone – will cut U.S. GhGs 6.7% by 2030.
Alan Nogee, Clean Energy Program director, Union of Concerned Scientists: "The 25 percent target is entirely achievable and will lower consumers' energy bills along the way…President Obama campaigned for this standard, and now Congress should pass it. Everyone will benefit."
D-SIRE is the best source of information on the web about the RES in particular and state New Energy incentives in general.
Union of Concerned Scientists RES toolkit
RES slide presentation
click to enlarge
Shock To The System: Should Uncle Sam Force Power Companies To Go Green?
February 9, 2009 (National Journal)
New Markey-Platts Bill Would Dramatically Boost Clean Energy Development, Science Group Says; Legislation Would Put Nation on Path to Affordable, Cleaner, More Reliable Energy System
February 4, 2009 (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Margaret Kriz, staff correspondent, National Journal; Paul Dickerson, Partner, Haynes and Boone, LLP; Jay Apt, Professor, Electricity Industry Center/Carnegie Mellon University; Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass), Chairman, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and Congressman Todd Platts (R-Penn); Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) (Alan Nogee, Clean Energy Program director)
Regarding the proposed national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) – aka Renewable Energy Standard, aka Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – the debate has been joined.
click to enlarge
- The proposed Senate RES requires 20% of power come from New Energy sources by 2021 in increments: 4% by 2011, 8% by 2013, 12% by 2016, 16% by 2019 and 20% by 2021.
- The House RES requires 25% by 2025.
- U.S. Department of Energy EIA studies found the 25% by 2025 RES will save consumers $2 billion from 2009 to 2030 and cut U.S. GhGs 6.7% by 2030.
- The first RES was established in 1991 by the state of Iowa.
- The main opponent states to the RES in the last 2 Congressional fights have been the states of the Southeast that – dominated by entrenched Old Energy interests – have been obstinate instead of creative about the development of their New Energy resources.
click to enlarge
- More than half of U.S. states have an RES, suggesting that over half of all electricity generated in the country is subject to New Energy requirements.
- One study suggests utilities must invest ~$1.5 trillion in infrastructure by 2030.
- Benefits of a 20% by 2021 RES enumerated by Senator Bingaman: (1) reduce dependence on dirty, nonrenewable Old Energy sources of electricity, (2) reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, (3) reduce pressure on limited natural gas resources as electricity generation, (4) reduce price pressure on natural gas, (5) create new jobs, (6) begin GhG reduction, (7) increase energy security, and (8) improve grid reliability.
- The RES has been endorsed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and a variety of industrial associations, renewable trade groups and utilities.
- A UCS preliminary analysis found the 25% by 2025 RES would increase U.S. New Energy capacity 135% above what business-as-usual would bring.
- A UCS analysis of a 20% by 2020 RES found it would create 185,000 new jobs, generate $66.7 billion in new capital investment, and dramatically cut GhGs.
click to enlarge
- Jay Apt, Professor, Electricity Industry Center/Carnegie Mellon University: “A national RPS is a bad idea for three reasons. First, there are several other practical and often less expensive ways to generate electricity with low carbon dioxide emissions. Second, renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, and solar are located far from where most people live. This means that huge numbers of unpopular and expensive transmission lines would have to be built to get the power to where it could be used. Third, since many doubt that all the needed transmission lines would be built, a national RPS without sufficient transmission would force a city like Atlanta to buy renewable credits, essentially bribing North Dakota to use their wind power locally…”
- Alan Nogee, Clean Energy Program director, UCS: "This electrifying standard would provide a smart, proven, cost-effective strategy to ramp up our clean energy use, create tens of thousands of jobs, and lower consumer utility bills…The clean energy tax incentives that Congress is finalizing will get us moving in the right direction in the near term, and the renewable energy standard makes sure we stay on that path for the foreseeable future."