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May 152009
 

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Comments are flying faster than bats heading for a wind turbine in D.C. as all the “stakeholders” queue up to make their case for or against the Waxman-Markey climate legislation being debated next week.

First, our favorite — and this is a real giggle — from U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, the fast-fossilizing Republican from the Dallas area. He’s suggested that Congress not “cap” industrial emissions per se and that it “exclude carbon dioxide from a list of federal pollutants,” according to a McClatchy-Tribune news service report.

Right. Great answer to carbon pollution.

Next up, from a different perspective, our friends in wind power generation. They’re in a panic that Congress, with its perennial tendency to compromise until neither side is happy, will wantonly dilute the W-M bill requirements. Specifically, they’re concerned about the chipping away at the renewable electricity standard or RES, which designates that the country should using a certain percentage of clean energy by a certain year.

Talk was that the RES would be set at 25 percent by 2025– clean, simple. It was what U.S. Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey and President Obama wanted, that 25 percent of U.S. power would come from wind, solar, geothermal and other low-carbon sources, and it would happen by 2025.

But a new draft of the American Clean Energy and Security Act now makes that 20 percent by 2020. Doesn’t sound so bad.

But wait, here come the loopholes: Only 15 percent of the electricity would have to come from renewables, the other five could come from “energy efficiency measures”.

A further loophole would allow a governor to reduce the clean energy component to 12 percent for his or her state (this could help “low wind” states), as long as he/she could account for the other 8 percent with “energy efficiency measures” (adding up to 20, see?).

All this slippage is in response to concerns that electricity consumers would suffer increases in their bills at the higher RES. And one argument that does make sense is that not all states are created equal. It will take some innovation to bring solar and wind to places where solar and wind power are not easy solutions, say a non-windy Northern locale.

Still, one can’t help but notice that the D.C. mishmasher has made the new proposed RES more complicated and opens the door for “clean coal,” that quixotic elixir that’s supposed to make coal viably clean but which nobody can afford (that ought to make electricity cheaper) to malinger. Not to mention the potential that some places could stay tethered too long to dirty power sources under the influence of powerful lobbyists, while substituting energy conservation measures (that we should be taking anyway) for real change.

Of more urgent note: The group of U.S. wind executives say diluting the RES would deflate the newbie U.S. clean energy industry, where wind companies are playing catch-up to European firms as well as competing with countries like China.

Yes, they’re playing the job card. But perhaps someone should.

“We are concerned that the significantly lower renewable targets currently being discussed, as compared to proposals from President Obama, Chairman Bingaman and Chairman Markey, will severely blunt the signal for companies like ours that manufacture turbines and components to invest billions of dollars to expand production and our workforces in the U.S.,” said the letter. It was signed by the future wannabe titans of the industry –GE Energy, Vestas Americas, Gamesa, NRG Systems, REPower USA, Broadwind Energy, TPI Composites, PPG Industries, Clipper Windpower and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The AWEA calculates that the wind industry now employees about 85,000 Americans (did I say voters?), counting manufacturing, construction and operations.

A weak RES — talk about taking the wind out of our sails.

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