Hey, Cuz, Let’s Do A Renewable Electricity Standard

Udall and Udall – Sen. Mark of Colorado and his cousin Sen. Tom of New Mexico – are back at it with a new national electricity standard bill. It’s a proposal to do at the national level what many states have done to promote the adoption of renewable energy.

As you might expect, those who do business in renewable energy think the Udall plan, which would require the nation’s utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, is good smart policy.

image via Sen. Mark Udall

image via Sen. Mark Udall

“We’ve already seen what well-structured renewable energy standards have meant in states,” Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal sffairs of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement. “They’ve opened electricity markets to allow for more competition from renewable sources of energy and ultimately driven down the cost of electricity for consumers. This success can be replicated at the national level.”

True enough. Look at California – it’s already passed 20 percent renewables and is seemingly headed pretty smoothly toward the 33 percent level required by 2020. Yet the prospects for the national legislation can’t be said to look good.

As the Udalls pointed out in a statement announcing their proposal, they introduced a similar initiative in 2002 while they were members of the House of the Representatives. Just last year, too, Tom’s former New Mexico colleague in the Senate, Jeff Bingaman, brought forth the Clean Energy Standard of 2012. That idea was a little more complex, crediting energy sources by how clean they were, and allowing the utilities to come up with whatever mix they wished (including fossil fuels) in order to meet ever-tightening standards.

The Udall legislation would set the renewables requirement low to start, with a 6 percent requirement by 2014, then gradually raise the bar over the next decade or so.

The Udalls said their bill, S. 1595 – the text of which should be popping up here soon – wouldn’t preempt stricter state standards. To provide flexibility, suppliers could meet the requirement by “purchasing credits from other entities that have obtained credits by producing renewable energy,”  and “bank credits for four years and to borrow credits from up to three years in the future.” Municipal and other publicly owned power plants and rural electric co-ops would be exempted from the requirements.

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.