Renewables Still Seeking A Level Playing Field

When critics of wind power and solar power demand that they “stand on their own feet without subsidies,” or some such, they often ignore (or, more charitably, are unaware of) the policy and regulatory support all the energy types receive.

Yes, renewable energy has been encouraged with subsidies and tax breaks, but in many ways, renewables are still trying to level a playing field that has long been tilted.

renewable energy subsidies

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Here’s a good example of what we’re talking about: In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley is trying to push through a bill that would get offshore wind development going at a modest level. It would likely lead to slightly higher power rates, but the bill includes protections against those cost increases being excessive – and it specifies that no rate increases can happen until the turbines are up and producing electricity.

This will make it more challenging to get the turbines built, since it will make financing them more costly. It would be easier if the development costs could be passed along in advance.

The way nuclear power developers get to do it in Florida, for instance.

There, a 2006 law called the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause allows companies to collect a fee from ratepayers for proposed nuclear power plants that increasingly look like they might never be built. According to the Winter Haven News Chief, Duke Energy will pull in $150 million in such fees this year.

A revolt is brewing in Florida to repeal or at least fix the law – as it stands, it doesn’t even require reimbursement of ratepayers if proposed plants are abandoned.

But even as Floridians fight against this law, there’s been an attempt to put in a place similar nuke-friendly laws in Utah.

There, the Salt Lake Tribune is warning of SB 199, which it says could bring electricity customers “large hikes in their monthly bills to pay for a nuclear power plant that may never get off the drawing board.”

Meanwhile, some good news out of Maryland: The state’s House of Delegates this week approved the Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013. The measure still needs to pass the Senate, but prospects look good, which means Marylanders could be getting energy from turbines built off Ocean City by 2017. At which point – and no sooner – they will begin to pay for it.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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