Chu: Proposed renewable standard is too weak


Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Saturday that major Capitol Hill renewable electricity proposals would not prompt additional generation from sources like wind and solar power beyond the increases expected under existing programs.

The Hill report is not really big news.  I wrote back in May that EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus! Now can we get a stronger renewable standard?

The story makes it doubly clear how pointless an “energy-only” bill would be:

Chu – appearing the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, DC – said that renewables are already on a path to eventually supply 15-17 percent of the nation’s power on the strength of funding in the big 2009 stimulus law.

That increase would render the RES [A “renewable electricity standard] under consideration on Capitol Hill moot. An RES approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year sets a 15 percent renewable target by 2021, but roughly a fourth of that could be met through energy efficiency measures.

Energy and climate legislation the House approved last year similarly sets a 15 percent mandate by 2020, but, like the Senate plan, a portion of the target could be met with utility energy efficiency programs. Simply put, Chu is saying that existing policy will already spur equal or greater increases in renewable generation than the RES plans would require….

“My fear is that unless Congress passes something that is a little bit more than that, there will not be that incentive,” he said at forum on energy issues at the governors’ meeting. Chu said he would like to see a standard that is “a little bit more aggressive than what’s being considered.”

….  Chu, after speaking with the governors, told reporters that a 20 percent renewable standard by 2020 would be preferable. Some Democrats, such as Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), have also called for a higher renewables target. The renewable power industry is likewise lobbying for something more ambitious than the House and Senate bills.

Unfortunately, achieving getting a stronger RES is faces “big hurdles”

The more modest House and Senate plans were already the result of painstaking negotiations and compromises among lawmakers, including members from southeastern states who fear their region lacks enough renewable resources to meet higher targets.Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and some other Republicans have floated the idea of a broader “clean energy” standard for utilities that could be met with renewable energy and new nuclear power plants, as well as coal plants that trap and sequester carbon dioxide (a technology that has not yet been commercialized). Graham is trying to craft a compromise climate and energy bill with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Chu told reporters Saturday that he’s open to a standard that allows sources beyond renewables. “Logically, I am very much in favor of an overall clean energy standard,” he said.

But he also said there are problems with the idea. Chu noted that if a proposed nuclear plant faced a licensing delay, that could prevent compliance with the standard because reactors provide large amounts of power.

“I think, overall, philosophically, we do not want to draw any distinction in terms of this technology or that technology as long as it is clean, it is really reducing the carbon dioxide and other pollutants as well,” he said.

“The big question mark is if you are going to include nuclear in that mix, given that it is this big lump and if there is a licensing delay, how to deal with that, and so I think that has to be talked through,” Chu added.

Graham is looking at this broader standard “beginning at 13 percent in 2012 and reaching 25 percent in 2025 and 50 percent in 2050.”

I tend to doubt that nuclear will be a big player because of its cost (see “An introduction to nuclear power“).  And it would be important in any such broader standard to have a totally separate energy efficiency standard.  The devil is very much in the details of any clean energy standard so I’ll reserve judgment until I see the actual language.

But the bottom line on Chu’s point is that the RES as it is currently constructed is virtually pointless.  Indeed, if there is no comprehensive energy and climate legislation, then many states will probably amp up their RES’s, thus ensuring we get 20% renewables by 2020.

And so the conservative Sen. from South Carolina’s statement from earlier this month stands — Stick a fork in the energy-only bill: Lindsey Graham (R-SC) slams push for a “half-assed energy bill”

14 Responses to Chu: Proposed renewable standard is too weak

  1. Michael says:

    I’m surprised there is so much focus on the inclusion of nuclear power as the most damning feature of Graham’s proposed clean energy standard when there are so many other features of this bill that would be more harmful to renewables. In particular, the granting of RECs to retiring coal-fired power plants should be enough to get this proposal laughed out of the room. Add in the ACP “loophole” which allows utilities to refund any compliance payments to ratepayers, and you have a situation where any utility could choose to completely bypass the standard by paying the ACP, then immediately refunding those payments to ratepayers (or using them to deploy nukes, or CCS or whatever).

    This bill is a joke and should be treated as such, but the inclusion of nuclear power is by no means its most ridiculous feature.

  2. Christopher Yaun says:


    It is now possible to build homes that emit 1/10th the CO2 of an energy star rated home using standard building materials, standard construction practices and typical construction cost.

    Propane, 100 gallons, 9 million BTU, $250

    It took 100 gallons of propane to heat the near net zero energy house at 101 Mill Pond Way for the past year. I have 2 other houses in New Hampshire and they each require 200 gallons of fuel oil per month to heat or about $1500 per season.

    My partner, Heather, designed, contracted and managed the construction of the house at 101 Mill Pond Way. She borrowed ideas from the German Passive House folks and a local engineer at EnergySmiths and the New England Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). The house includes super air-tight construction, super insulation, careful attention to thermal bridging, an air to air heat exchanger, the absolute best windows available and passive solar elements. The walls are 10 inches think with a minimal R40. The attic is R70 cellulose. The home also has 3500 watts of PV and solar hot water. Constuction cost are under $200 per square foot. This is an amazing home.

    Half the house that we will live in 30-50 years from today have not been built. Adopting and building homes to this standard is a no-brainer.

    Please help spread the message.

    It is now possible to build homes that emit a small fraction of the CO2 of an energy star rated home. Everyone can do this, now!

    You don’t have to believe in global warming for it to be a smart idea.

    You will not need any goverment assistance to achieve a near zero energy home.

  3. Christopher Yaun says:


    Please excuse the double post.

    Unofficial first year energy costs:

    360 Greenleaf Ave(typical 3 bedroom home) – $6000 for fuel oil and electricity

    101 Mill Pond Way – $300 for propane

    95% reduction (or better) in energy cost and CO2 emissions.

    This is something that all people can get behind regardless of political leaning or scientific beliefs.

    How do we sell this idea now?

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    Guts, Clarity, Leadership, and Warranted Verve

    OK, I haven’t followed some of this closely. But, what is all this “a little bit more” stuff? And, overall, it seems to me, Obama and Chu and etc. aren’t being NEARLY as firm and confident as they ought to be and need to be.

    I am a great admirer of Steven Chu. But, I think that he and Obama should do some weightlifting together, pump some intellectual iron, actually lead in a way that reflects the fact that science is on their side, and so forth. The best defense is a good offense. But, our offense is terrible. We have the most shy, hesitant, cautious, soft-spoken, offense I’ve ever seen. The incredible intellectual power of the team — Obama and Chu and so forth — will amount to very little if it doesn’t get boldly stated and implemented.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:

    “Your goodness must have some edge to it,– else it is none.”

    I suggest that the whole team read Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” — three times — and then drink lots of coffee, eat some hearty steaks, remind each other that science is on their side, and stop politely suggesting to people who don’t get it that we only need just “a little bit more” of whatever.

    Please. Otherwise, if the team insists on running shy and polite quarterback sneaks play after play, earning six inches on each down, as the clock ticks, the cheering section is going to go home, me included.



  5. mike roddy says:

    Good comments, Michael and Christopher.

    I know an engineering firm (PEConsulting) that can retrofit a commercial building to be zero net energy. Advances in the field are occurring annually, and we have a lot to learn from the Germans, as you pointed out.

    I was a homebuilder for many years, and venture to guess that not very much of the $200/ft for your new house was for the energy saving upgrades. Insulation is cheap, and even the best low E windows don’t cost that much more for new construction. Reflective foil in the attic or roof sheathing is also cheap and cost effective.

    Since we stick build homes (most of the world uses solid masonry or poured in place concrete), the challenges are a little different. Sealing leaks is critical, especially around the vents, but insulation voids are trickier. Wood moves and shrinks, so the commonly used batts create voids. This is mitigated to some extent by solid exterior foam, but not entirely. Cellulose is better between studs, expanding foam best. It’s also of course common sense to use light or reflective roofing, and south facing windows.

    These are all simple and inexpensive steps that most homebuilders just won’t take unless they have to. California has the toughest codes, which has been good for everybody, but even there more attention should be paid to some of the details I listed above. Tract house architects, for example, rarely consider window placement.

    We should also frame houses with steel, since with exterior foam it’s a tighter and more energy efficient house. The other issue is that logging is responsible for about 7% of US CO2 emissions, and almost half of that goes to construction. Steel’s share of our emissions is 2%, and only 10% of annual production would be required for house framing. Our habit of building fragile houses that destroy forests and emit vast amounts of CO2 is a big problem, and easily solved.

  6. Wes Rolley says:

    I am glad to see that the general conversation is beginning to sound like Ed Mazria. Architecture 2030 has been saying this about the energy costs of the built environment for years now and very few places have gotten to the point of putting such into the building codes, community general plans or similar documents.

    A good case can probably be made that adopting such practices as Mazria talks about and that Christopher Yaun has put into practice, we would not need to build any of the new nuclear reactors whose need arises only from the view that you can not control the demand side of the energy equation.

  7. Ken Johnson says:

    Replying to Christopher Yaun, re “How do we sell this idea now?”: Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)

    One caveat: Under an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, the energy savings would not result in national emission reductions; they will only free up emission allowances that will allow someone else to emit more. Similarly, cap-and-trade could nullify the environmental benefit of a national RES.

  8. john atcheson says:


    We need a comprehensive and integrated approach that features an aggressive Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, AND a Renewable Portfolio Standard. Efficiency should not come out of the hide of renewables, we need both, and efficiency must come first as it will enable the use of lower energy density renewables to be affordable.

    We need some later day Carville to say to the Pols “It’s a system, Stupid.”

  9. prokaryote says:

    The Military’s Salute to Climate Change
    And it just might. With its ringing appeals to patriotism, a safer homeland, and American interests, the national security pitch has a fair shot at wooing independents and maybe swaying a Republican vote or two. If that narrative succeed where others have failed, terrific. There are any number of reasons why we should want to stop climate change, and this one is just as good as any other.

  10. Scott says:

    Last year when the energy debate began anew lots of people said we should convert all our old coal-fired power plants to natural gas. Should this be a component of the effort to clean up our power production? Is there a good reason why not?

  11. James Newberry says:

    Energy Secretary Chu and President Obama are promoting the same tired fossil/fissile war economy as in past decades. Atomic fission is a problem, not an answer, to climate/energy concerns and is certainly NOT carbon emissions free. Besides, if they want to price waste (emissions), why don’t they tax radioactive waste and routine emissions from nuclear plants? Why are they behaving as ideologues in favor of radioactive poisons (and proliferation), while their rhetoric is about “clean” energy.

    Truly clean energy economic opportunities are pervasive. However, they won’t be promoted by a pervasively corrupt government. We are now headed in 2022 for half of the corn crop to be used for the scam of “biofuels,” (thereby starving millions) while global corporatism continues to drain the Treasury for war profitering and mining subsidies (of uranium, coal, petroleum oil and methane gas) that powers that military. These are not “sustainable energy resources” at all, and their trillions of dollars of historic subsidies should end. Yet under a war economy (forget climate change), they won’t.

  12. paulm says:

    Arn’t there any ‘real’ scientist who are prominent GOP/visible republican who know that Global Warming is coming?

    There must be. Why haven’t we heard from them? Surely they should be concern about what is going on.

    They need to be on arguing for action from within…

  13. Bill Waterhouse says:

    60 Minutes story tonight on “Bloom Box” fuel cell.  Supposed to use cheap materials and convert natural gas into electricity at twice efficiency of current power plants.  Google and eBay testing installations. If for real, would allow cheap decentralized power.  Sounds a lot better than nuclear as a bridge energy choice.

  14. Chris Dudley says:

    Bill (#13),

    It is very hard to cast nuclear power as a bridge. Yes, there is only about an 80 year supply of fuel at the current rate of use so that nuclear power won’t last. But really it is more like a White Elephant in the sense that its main effect is to impoverish us and keep us from pursuing effective solutions. It is a roadblock rather than a bridge.