The next US Congress has its sights on a clean energy standard (CES) that includes clean coal and new nuclear technology rather than a federal renewable electricity standard (RES), a shift that Barack Obama’s administration seems willing to embrace.
Barring a miraculous comeback, a federal RES is dead for the current session of Congress, particularly with renewable energy advocates devoting all their resources and advocacy efforts toward their most immediate priority: an extension of the Section 1603 Treasury grant programme.
With Republicans set to assume control of the House and take more seats in the Senate in January, increasing chatter on energy policy has focused on a more comprehensive standard that would go beyond a pure RES to include nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies.
“Renewable is out,” said John Juech, vice-president, policy analysis for consultancy Garten Rothkopf in Washington, DC. “Clean is the new language.”
The Obama administration seems ready to embrace this shift, with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu urging Congress to consider a CES that includes nuclear and clean coal in pursuit of a target of 50% of the electricity mix by 2050 target.
“I think lawmakers are coming to the conclusion that a clean energy standard will encompass more technologies and get us faster down the road,” said Joshua Freed, director of the clean energy programme of centrist think-tank Third Way.
Renewable energy advocates seem resigned to a more inclusive standard. In the new Congress, the renewable energy and ‘emerging’ clean technology supporters will come together to hammer out an agreement, predicted Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. The guiding intent should be to displace as much polluting coal and natural gas as possible and scale-up 21st century technologies such as renewable energy, clean coal and new nuclear, he said.
“The clean energy standard is something we would expect to see as part of an energy bill in the next Congress,” Resch said. “The structure is still to be determined.”
A more inclusive standard would be appealing to legislators from regions heavily dependent on coal and supportive of nuclear power, but others would be ready to argue that neither nuclear nor clean coal should count as clean energy sources and are likely to try to limit their inclusion in any standard.
“While it’s important to be open-minded, there does come a point where if everything is included it becomes a little meaningless,” Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) told attendees of the American Council for Renewable Energy’s policy forum last week. “The more things you put in, the more you dilute the incentive for wind, solar, biomass and all the other energy sources that we more traditionally think of in the clean energy arena.”
But anyone who believes climate change is an existential threat needs to be willing to embrace any options to reduce emissions, Freed said. “You can’t be serious about reducing emissions and rule nuclear out of the equation,” he said.
Congress will have to ensure that the federal standard does not undermine state renewable portfolio standards, said Ron Pernick, managing director of research and advisory firm Clean Edge. Several states have at least 20% by 2020 or 25% by 2025 targets, which a federal standard would not come close to matching, and the vast majority exclude nuclear and clean coal as qualifying energy sources, he noted.
“You have to make sure the states don’t lose the ability to have stronger standards,” Pernick said.
By. Gloria Gonzalez