November 3, 2013

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey’s National Renewable Energy Standard

Perhaps taking his inspiration from the Red Sox victory in the World Series, Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Masssachusetts is also attempting to hit one out of the park.

Elected in June to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s former seat, Markey on Wednesday introduced his first bill in the Senate — an ambitious plan for the country to produce 25 percent of its power from renewable sources while cutting its power use 10-15 percent, all by 2025.

You can read the full, 68-page text of the bill, called the American Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act, here. A briefer summary is available here.

The proposed law would require all major U.S. utilities — defined as those selling consumers more than 1 million megawatt hours per year — to procure increasing amounts of their power from renewable sources, starting with 6 percent in 2015 and ramping up to 25 percent by 2025. At the same time, the  utilities would have to show increasing cuts in power use overall, compared to business-as-usual projections.

For electric utilties, the cuts would begin at 1 percent in 2015 and rise to 15 percent by 2025. Natural gas companies would have to cut use by one-half percent in 2015 and achieve 10 percent savings by 2025.

An analysis of the bill by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and Union of Concerned Scientists projects it could

– Create more than 400,000 jobs.

– Lead to energy efficiency improvements that will save the average American household $39 annually. Cumulative consumer savings through 2030 would be nearly $90 billion.

– Spur more than $200 billion in new capital investments in renewable energy technology, leading to nearly a quadrupling of renewable electricity production by 2025.

– Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 480 million metric tons annually by 2025, the equivalent output of 120 coal-fired power plants.

The bill also includes extra incentives for distributed generation, meaning small wind projects and rooftop solar, and renewable power development on tribal and disturbed lands.

Markey points out that 30 states and the District of Columbia now have set their own renewable energy targets, and 24 states have energy efficiency requirements. On the international level, the U.S. now lags behind 118 other countries that have set green power standards. A national standard would complement state efforts, he said, and presumably not supercede them since California utilities already have a 33 percent renewable goal set for 2020, a target the state considers a floor not a ceiling.

“The time has come to move forward aggressively in deploying renewable energy in the United States,” Markey’s legislative summary concludes. “Technology costs are plummeting and deployment around the world is skyrocketing. Solar panel prices have declined by 75 percent over the last three years, and wind power has become cheaper than conventional energy from the grid in New England and many other parts of the United States. Nearly half of all electrical capacity installed worldwide last year was renewable energy. Clean energy companies are expected to generate almost $2 trillion in revenues globally between 2012 and 2018. The American Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act would ensure that the United States is at the forefront of this economic boomand that American consumers enjoy the benefits.”

The chances of getting a bill like this through Congress in the midst of pitched budget debates and the coming election year would appear slim to quixotic. Opposition can be expected from powerful fossil fuel interests and climate change skeptics who have shown themselves ready to battle renewable energy standards wherever and whenever proposed.

At the same time, it’s hard to argue with Markey’s main message.

It’s past time for Congress to catch up with the economic transition in our energy system that is clearly alread underway and align itself with the bottom-line and environmental benefits of energy efficiency.

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