A National Clean Energy Standard

By Bob Cleaves | February 22, 2011

The 112th Congress is hardly in gear, and already pundits in Washington are speculating about the future of a national energy policy. The debate was heightened with the president’s State of the Union speech, which called for a national goal of 80 percent “clean energy” by 2035. So what exactly is clean energy and what role will biomass play in the legislative debate?

First, let’s talk about clean as opposed to renewable. In the last Congress, Biomass Power Association joined with solar, wind, waste to energy and other renewable trade associations to advocate for a strong renewable energy standard. As we all know, the House passed an aggressive standard, along with cap-and-trade legislation, which failed to get traction in the Senate. Indeed, many new members of Congress ran on an anti-cap-and-trade platform. Significantly, this legislation disqualified any nonrenewable energy such as nuclear or coal with carbon capture and sequestration, thus alienating political support from coal states and the Southeast. In addition, those opposing a federal renewable energy standard claimed that the initiative would end up costing consumers at a time when the economy could ill afford higher energy costs.

What has changed? Well, the November elections, for starters, created a new political landscape that must be negotiated. No matter who occupies the role of Speaker of the House, promoting alternative energy sources is a bipartisan issue that enjoys widespread support across the political spectrum.

Surely, cap and traders and those who support a rigid definition of renewable have lost the political debate for the time being. David Hamilton, director of global warming and energy programs at the Sierra Club, perhaps said it best: “As an environmental group we don’t have the luxury of being one-dimensional about what is clean energy or not.” (This sounds strangely similar to what we have been saying all along when it comes to a broad and common sense definition of biomass. But I digress.)

So, we suspect that if a national energy policy is to receive Congressional support, it must be broad, and the definition of clean must incorporate a wide array of sources. That means all the traditional renewables including biomass, but also nonrenewable and low- or no-carbon sources such as nuclear.

As advocates of biomass, we intend to support a national energy policy, and assure that the policy fully embraces our form of energy while promoting other clean sources. At the same time, we want to make sure the policy is meaningful and will serve as a catalyst for growth, which means taking a hard look at what is considered clean and to make sure that valuable state programs are not eliminated.
The definition of clean energy should remain broad; there is plenty of space for many different types of energy. As a nation, we need an energy policy that moves forward, and promotes energy independence cost-effectively and cleanly.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association