Bioenergy, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Hydropower, Solar, Wind Power

Two Wrongs Don’t Make It Right

September is proving to be a month of political intrigue, international intrigue, and some downright fantasy regarding our energy future.

The Monday, September 27thWashington Post editorial entitled “Energy Roulette” lambasted Senators Bingaman (D-NM) and Brownback (R-KS) for introducing their “so called” renewable electricity standard. They did so, not because of Ken Bossong’s SUN DAY Campaign release a few days before, also bashing the Bill in which he said the proposed RES:

“would require sellers of electricity to retail customers to obtain 3% of their electricity from renewable energy resources or from energy efficiency improvements by the years 2012-2013. Yet, according to the most recent issue of the “Electric Power Monthly” issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), non-hydro renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) provided nearly 4.1% of domestic U.S. electrical generation during the first half of 2010. Hydropower provided an additional 6.8% of net U.S. electrical generation for the same time period. …. Moreover, electrical generation from non-hydro renewable sources continues to grow rapidly. According to EIA data, electricity from biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind during the first six months of 2010 increased by 13% over the amount generated during the first half of 2009. Wind-generated electricity increased by 21.4%; electricity from solar thermal and photovoltaics rose by 16.4%; wood & other forms of biomass rose by 4.5%; and geothermal output increased by 0.8%.” 

No, The Washington Post was concerned that greenhouse gas should be the main rationale and technologies like nuclear (and others) would be left out of the incentive pool.

Now this great concern comes after the nuclear industry has received billions of dollars of subsidies and protections – far greater than all the other renewable and energy efficiency technologies combined.

Further, this great concern comes just one week after news reports (albeit not in The Washington Post) that a “A North African branch of Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven foreign employees of Areva at its Arlit uranium mine site last week.  A burgeoning civil war in the north of the country over profits from the country’s uranium mines – most of which have gone to the government and the more affluent south – has resulted in a situation many feared and tried to prevent; an opportunity for Al Qaeda to organize and mobilize.” (SOURCE: Beyond Nuclear Bulletin September 23, 2010)

Now don’t get me wrong, the Senators Bingaman and Brownback in their joint press release stated, “A national RES also will increase our energy security, enhance the reliability of the electricity grid by creating more homegrown renewable energy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. “ And that is undeniably true.

But an RES, if it is to work must set goals beyond where the market is already incrementally going. And any RES must include direct-use renewables such as solar daylighting, solar thermal, ground-coupled (geothermal) heat pumps, CHP, and biomass thermal and geothermal as well as high-value energy efficiency. And this action needs to be bipartisan and accomplished soon.

Contrary to the views of The Washington Post, some experts have shown during the entire fuel cycle, nuclear energy produces carbon when uranium mining, generation and waste storage are fully taken into account – and that’s atop having to import uranium and protect the system from terrorism and human failure.

But the biggest wrong, is that the clean energy community and Members of Congress have strayed away from what the initial policy driver was for a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). The change was intentional because the word “Portfolio” matters. The initial concept was for new electric power generation to have mandated incremental goals for “newer” emerging commercial renewable technologies to insure the United States diversifies its electric generation base. A similar concept, the Renewable Fuels Standard was developed for transportation fuels.

Contrary to the Tea Party movement, the federal government has involved itself in making sure there is a “portfolio” of players or options in the marketplace. Antitrust laws and requirements for banks to have their reserves invested in a portfolio of investments are just two examples.

There is a solid national security rational for an RPS. First, to ensure that domestic technologies that have less than 10 percent market share can have entry into the market. And second, so that we don’t water down the definition to allow other technologies, such as nuclear, to fit the bill.  Bringing nuclear into the equation, even though it may have “so called” less carbon, only substitutes one subsidized option for another – subsidizing nuclear with federal taxpayer dollars means we will still have to import uranium and spend taxpayer dollars to defend supply line, generation plants and waste repositories.

So here we sit with a proposed Senate RES that has goals that we have already met; groups in the clean energy/environmental community buying into cosmetic rather than substantive policy and market improvements; and recent oil spills, natural gas pipeline explosions, and uranium kidnappings as our current collection of “energy choices.”

Happy Fall 2010.