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National renewable power standards? Still not practical

Michael Giberson's picture
Center for Energy Commerce, Rawls College of Business, Texas Tech University

Dr. Michael Giberson is an instructor with the Center for Energy Commerce in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. Formerly, he was an economist with Potomac Economics, Ltd., a...

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Some news reports are suggesting the U.S. is now less likely to pass climate change legislation, but prospects for policies boosting renewable power may have improved slightly. Ever more timely, then, is this 2008 analysis of proposed national renewable portfolio standards by Jay Apt, Lester Lave, and Sompop Pattanariyankool: “A national renewable portfolio standard? Not practical.”  Selected quotes:

“Like Mayor Bloomberg and the Alliance [for Clean Energy New York], 25 governors, and more than 100 members of Congress, we love renewable energy. However, even this wonderful idea requires a hard look to see what is sensible now and why some current and proposed policies are likely to be costly, anger many people, and undermine the reliability of our electricity system.”

“We share the goals of reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing energy security, maintaining electric supply reliability, and controlling costs. The mistake is to think that a blinkered emphasis on renewable energy sources is the best way to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, this mistake has swept through 25 state legislatures.”

“Many current laws mandate the use of a specific technology, apparently assuming that legislators can predict the success of future R&D. An RPS is such a law. In our judgment, laws ought to specify requirements that generation technologies must meet, such as low pollution, affordability, power quality, and domestic power sources, and leave the means of realizing the goals to technologists and the market.”

Whatever goals members of Congress might have with respect to renewable power policy, there are more efficient policies available for pursuing those goals.  Unless, of course, members of Congress are mainly interested in feel-good policy symbolism, mucking around in markets for political purposes and hiding the burden of federal policy  in consumer’s electric bills.

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