Bill aims to require US to achieve 50% renewable power by 2035

By Erin Voegele | June 27, 2019

New legislation introduced June 26 aims to put the U.S. on a path towards decarbonization, requiring 50 percent of U.S. electricity to be generated by renewables by 2035. Biomass and biogas would help meet that goal.

Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; and Angus King, I-Maine, introduced the bill, titled the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) Act of 2019, or S. 1974, this week.

The bill creates a federal floor-setting standard that increases annual sales from renewable electricity generation rom utilities in all states. Starting in 2020, the RES would require that each retail electricity provider increase its supply of renewable energy by a percentage of total retail sales per year.

The federal floor would start at 1.5 percent in 2020 for utilities over 1 million megawatt hours (MWh), increasing by 2 percent annually through 2029, and 2.5 percent through 2035. The federal ramp-up rates for utilities under 1 million MWh would be half the rate of the larger utilities.

The bill defines renewable energy as energy from renewable biomass, landfill gas, solar, wind, ocean, tidal, geothermal energy, incremental hydropower and hydrokinetic energy.

A renewable energy credit (REC) would be generated for each kilowatt hour of energy generated by a new renewable resource. These RECs would be used for compliance. While some exemptions would apply, most existing renewable electricity production would not be eligible for the generation of federal RECs. States would be allowed compliance flexibility by allowing the banking and borrowing of credits for three years.

Authors of the bill say the plan is equitable because it reduces disparities between states by mostly excluding existing renewable generation. A summary of the bill explains that no matter how much renewable generation a state currently has—or does not have—in place, electricity providers in every state are asked to increase their annual sales from renewables by at least the same percentage. As a result, no state would be at a disadvantage.

The bill would also incentivize the development of renewable energy sources in all states. By requiring electricity provides to purchase RECs from new renewable generation, the plan aims to reduce concerns around wealth transfers and outsourcing of compliance to states already leading in clean energy.

A summary of the bill also indicates it would incentivize renewable energy development in Native American communities and areas defined as “impacted communities,” which include economically distressed areas affected by pollution or other hazards or economically distressed areas affected by high unemployment to a significant decline in coal mining or the closure of a coal-fired power plants. New renewable energy generation in these communities would credited at twice the value.

States that have renewable electricity standards or low carbon energy standards at or above the federal floor and those with generation mixes of at least 60 percent renewable energy could opt out.

In addition to requiring the nation source at least 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2035, the bill also requires the Secretary of Energy to submit a plan to Congress for changes to the program post-2035 that would achieve zero-carbon in the utility sector.

The American Council on Renewable Energy and the Biomass Power Association are among the organizations that have endorsed the bill.

Additional information on the bill is available on Udall’s website