When a Clean Energy Standard is None of the Above

A new report has been released by the Energy Information Administration (U.S. Department of Energy) analyzing the impacts of a so-called federal “Clean Energy Standard.” But before we delve into the study, a bit of political history is necessary to put the CES and this analysis in context.

State RPS Policies

State Renewable Portfolio Standards are similar to a CES - but typically only allow "renewable" energy

President Obama jumped onto the CES bandwagon in his 2011 State of the Union speech, and since then, a CES has been seen as the most politically viable vehicle on energy policy climate change. But, as a result of the leadership change in the House of Representatives, Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) became Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology earlier this year. Rep. Hall (a climate change skeptic) requested a review of the CES in an effort to highlight just how expensive action on climate change would be.

Under the EIA analysis Rep. Hall requested, some 80% of electricity would have to come from “clean energy” by 2035 – a broad definition that includes “hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass power, municipal solid waste, landfill gas, nuclear, coal-fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration, and natural gas-fired plants with either carbon capture and sequestration or utilizing combined cycle.” Doesn’t exactly sound “clean” does it?

CES Mostly Favors Gas, Nuclear and Coal

CES Mostly Favors Gas, Nuclear and Coal

In fact, the CES wouldn’t do much to help renewable energy at all. Under the EIA analysis, natural gas represents 35% of the U.S. electric generation by 2035, nuclear 24% and coal still represents about 20%. Meanwhile, wind energy would be expected to represent a paltry 6% of electric generation and solar would provide an embarrassing 0.5%. Under a Clean Energy Standard, a whopping 79% of U.S. electric production would come from natural gas, nuclear and coal energy – not exactly clean, and not much of a deviation from our current energy production.

But we’ve known this much for a while – advocates for nuclear reactors and natural gas have renewable energy in their crosshairs and the CES might just allow them to pull the trigger. This warfare on renewable energy is already being played out in countries with existing renewable energy policies and could be an example of things to come to the U.S. Across the pond, the United Kingdom has some very strong renewable energy standards, especially for offshore wind energy. However, some people are crying foul and saying wind energy should be scrapped altogether from the UK’s plans. Instead, those naysayers are promoting…you guessed it, gas turbines and nuclear reactors. Here in the U.S., an offshore wind farm in Ohio can’t get the attention it needs from the Governor. The propaganda from natural gas proponents in Ohio is crowding out truly renewable energy.

It’s pretty safe to assume that a Clean Energy Standard like the one proposed and analyzed isn’t going to help renewable energy all that much – especially since it’s still in the nebulous stages in Congress. But two other proposed policies (S 1397 / HR 3238, the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act; and HR 3307, the American Renewable Energy Tax Credit Extension Act of 2011) could provide a real boost to renewable energy development and need our support and the support of our elected leaders, too. To get in touch with your elected officials, check out SACE’s AdvoKit.

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