Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s assurances that no such provision will be included in a climate bill this summer, 27 Democrats and one Senate Republican are nonetheless pressing the Nevada senator for inclusion of a renewable electricity standard (RES). An RES would require utilities to obtain a percentage of their power from renewable resources within a set time frame, and is considered one of the best ways to promote clean energy production in the United States over the long term. Last week, Reid came out saying that such language was not in his vocabulary.
Sam Brownback of Kansas (a state that already gets 20 percent of its electricity from wind power) is the lone Republican senator to join Democrats in signing the letter urging Reid to include a national RES in his bill. Brownback is, however, staunchly opposed to any carbon cap or tax being included.
Reid and many other Democrats in the Senate are apparently fearful of a Republican filibuster because they do not have the 60 votes necessary to nullify that option (although, why they don’t force the Republicans’ hand instead of constantly allowing the opposite is beyond me). Still, Brownback and his unlikely Democratic allies believe they can get the 60 votes and that there is enough bipartisan support in the Senate to pull off an RES-inclusive bill.
Senators Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico led in drafting the letter, which argued, “A strong RES will give certainty to clean energy companies that are looking to invest billions of dollars in the U.S. to manufacture wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy components.”
29 states already have their own renewable energy mandates, but legislation would have to be uniform throughout the country to truly facilitate wide-scale, permanent growth in the national renewable energy industry.
Why the Opposition to RES?
The main opposition to a national RES comes from senators of both parties representing the American South, where only four states — Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas — have state-level RES portfolios.
Many of these states are rich in coal and have a strong lobby against any legislation that would tax or otherwise inhibit its production. Senators from these states often argue that their states do not have the renewable resources that other states have, such as the Southwest’s sunshine or wind along the coasts and in the Midwest. Subsequently, their states would be at a disadvantage when trying to meet RES requirements and would pay an unfair amount of penalties for noncompliance.
How the South Could Benefit from Renewable Standards
However, Environmental Leader reports that a new study, Renewable Energy in the South, released by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University, asserts that a national RES would be an economic boon to the South. It claims that southern states could obtain 20 to 30 percent of their energy from renewable resources within 20 years if strong federal mandates are passed, all while adding thousands of new jobs. The South gets less than 4 percent of its energy from renewables today. Most of what there is comes from hydropower.
Yet despite letters, broad support outside the South and intense pressure from RE industries, nearly all hope for a strong climate bill coming out of the Senate this year is gone. The heavily compromised bill Harry Reid is expected to release this summer will include some minor but largely ineffectual clean energy incentives and some oil and gas industry regulations in response to the BP oil spill. Reid has shown no signs yet of relenting on his no-cap, no-RES position.
Photo Credit: Switched