US clean energy standard proposed in Senate

Hoping an inclusive, flexible approach will draw support, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) recently introduced the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012.

The bill will will attempt to push large retail utilities to get their electricity from cleaner – but not necessarily renewable – sources.

Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had tried before to mirror state renewable portfolio standards with a federal renewable electricity standard, but his legislation never gained real traction. 

Now he’s hoping to fare better by moving beyond pure-green renewables like solar and wind power to include sources such as natural gas, nuclear power, hydropower, coal with carbon capture, and forms of waste-to-energy.

But not all energy would be treated equally under his clean energy standard (CES), according to a backgrounder provided by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

”All generators of clean energy would be given credits based upon their carbon emissions,” the document reads. “Greater numbers of credits would be awarded to generators with lower emissions per unit of electricity.”

Richard Caperton of the Center for American Progress, writing on the Climate Progress blog, said that under such a system, “Instead of prescribing credits for different generating technologies … Bingaman’s bill calculates the credits based on individual power plant emissions, as reported to EPA.  This creates an incentive for every power plant to be run more efficiently, especially natural gas plants.”

Bingaman is counting on a flexible framework that allows “a wide variety of sources (solar, wind, nuclear, natural gas, coal with carbon capture and storage, etc.) to be used to meet the standard; allows market forces to determine what the optimal mix of technologies and fuels should be; and makes it easy for new technologies to be incorporated,” the backgrounder says.

Under the proposal, the clean energy requirement for large utilities would begin at 24 percent in 2015, and increase by 3 percent each year through 2035.

“We want to make sure that we drive continued diversity in our energy sources, and allow every region to deploy clean energy using its own resources,” Bingaman said. “And we want to make sure that we do all of this in a way that supports home-grown innovation and manufacturing, and keeps us competitive in the global clean-energy economy.”

Bingaman said the CES is based on modeling done by the Energy Information Administration that “showed that a properly designed CES would have almost zero impact on GDP growth, and little to no impact on national electricity rates for the first decade of the program.”

The proposal [PDF] actually sounds a lot like the one put forth by President Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address, which said that in order “to give utilities the flexibility to generate clean energy … all clean sources—including renewables, nuclear power, efficient natural gas and coal with carbon capture and sequestration—would count toward the goal.”

Whether Bingaman can round up the kind of bipartisan support that it would take to move the legislation is a big question. As you can see, none of the cosponsors mentioned by Bingaman in announcing the bill—Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).—has an “R” after his name. Still, the proposal’s broader goal was drawing support in the energy community as, at the very least, a good conversation starter.

Typical of the reaction was the one from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). “Striking the right balance will require real effort by all sides, and Sen. Bingaman’s bill is an excellent place to start,” the group’s president, Eileen Claussen, said in a statement. “We hope it launches a vital and constructive national conversation about how best to ensure reliable and affordable electricity for our country while tackling climate change.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association also saluted Bingaman for offering up the bill, and NextEra Energy put out a release that said “the bill’s market-oriented standard would allow many different types of fuel sources to be competitive, while rewarding innovation, early action, efficiency and project execution.”

The full text of the bill can be read here.

Pete Danko, EarthTechling