Chu: Proposed renewable standard is too weak

Duh!

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”