Knobloch: There Is Still Time to Act on Renewable Energy

Posted September 22, 2010 at 6:52pm

Updated: Sept. 23, 10:52 a.m.

Although the Senate failed to act on legislation that combats oil dependence and climate change, Congress can still boost our economy by passing a measure that expands clean energy production, keeps us competitive with China and Europe, and reduces the heat-trapping emissions driving climate change.

[IMGCAP(1)]A bipartisan group of Senators including Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) are backing a renewable electricity standard that could pass the Senate this year. While the bill is not perfect, it is still worth passing.

The United States can recapture the most important industry of the 21st century, clean energy technology, and the millions of jobs and billions of investment dollars that come with it. Right now, China and Europe are far ahead of the United States. Last year, China claimed the lead in wind power installed and solar power manufactured. Financing in Chinese wind turbines, solar panels and low-carbon technology jumped 72 percent to $11.5 billion, almost triple the U.S. investment over the same period.

Meanwhile, America’s lack of a nationwide renewable energy policy, combined with a shortage of capital markets, is already slowing the growth of clean energy: Wind installations are down 71 percent in the second quarter compared with last year, while billions of dollars of potential investment in our outdated electricity grid sit on the sidelines instead of creating jobs. A renewable electricity standard would give utilities a signal that they need to greenlight more renewable power generation.

The idea behind a renewable electricity standard is simple: Create a market-based system that would require electric providers to supply a minimum percentage of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro power, geothermal and bioenergy.

Politically, the renewable electricity standard is more than achievable. The Senate itself has passed such a standard three times since 2002. Meanwhile, 29 states and the District of Columbia have already enacted their own standards. They were so beneficial to consumers and local economies that more than half of those states later strengthened the requirements to further boost renewable energy production.

The standards help consumers, in part, because they diversify the electricity supply. When fossil fuel prices spike, consumers in areas that rely on renewable electricity aren’t hit as hard as areas that are almost entirely dependent on coal and natural gas for their electricity.

The Senate should recognize the urgency of the moment and the political wisdom of a policy with widespread, bipartisan support, and pass the RES bill. Such a standard would establish a first-ever nationwide framework for increasing the use of renewable energy and is worth passing.

The Senate can’t let another opportunity to make our economy cleaner slip away.

Kevin Knobloch is the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.