Considering a CES

National Clean Energy Standard legislation has been introduced in the Senate
By Anna Austin | April 03, 2012

U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., has introduced legislation for a national Clean Energy Standard that would require large utilities to begin selling a certain portion of their electricity from clean energy sources beginning in 2015.

The Clean Energy Act of 2012 begins at 24 percent clean energy in 2015, and increases by 3 percent per year through 2035 to reach 84 percent. It would only apply to utilities that are selling electricity to retail consumers, and exempts small utilities. In 2015, 8 percent of all utilities would need to meet the standard, increasing to 13 percent in 2025.

The bill’s definition of clean energy is as follows: electricity generated at a facility placed in service after 1991, using renewable energy, qualified renewable biomass, natural gas, hydropower, nuclear power, or qualified waste-to-energy; electricity generated at a facility placed in service after enactment that uses qualified combined-heat-and-power (CHP); electricity generated with a carbon-intensity lower than 0.82 metric tons (.9 tons) per megawatt hour, or as a result of qualified efficiency improvements or capacity additions at existing nuclear or hydropower facilities. The definition also includes electricity generated at a facility that captures and stores its carbon dioxide emissions.

Qualified CHP must generate at least 20 percent of its useful energy as electricity and 20 percent as heat, and have an overall system efficiency of greater than 50 percent, according to the bill. To be considered qualified renewable biomass, the feedstock must be produced and harvested in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Qualified waste-to-energy is defined as energy produced from the combustion of post-recycled municipal solid waste, animal waste or animal byproducts, biogas, landfill methane, or other biomass that has been diverted or separated from other waste out of a municipal waste stream. Existing waste-to-energy facilities must be in compliance with all applicable environmental regulations for new facilities within the applicable source category under the Clean Air Act.

In addition, the proposal includes a provision to study how thermal energy may be incorporated into a national CES, an element that the Biomass Thermal Energy Council is enthusiastically supporting. No later than three years after the date of enactment of the bill, the U.S. DOE will conduct a study to examine mechanisms to supplement the standard by addressing clean energy resources that do not generate electric energy but that may substantially reduce electric energy loads. That would include biomass converted to thermal energy, thermal energy delivered through district heating systems, and waste heat used as industrial process heat.

“BTEC has worked tirelessly in support of policies that recognize and promote the use of renewable thermal energy from sources like biomass,” says Joseph Seymour, BTEC executive director. “We look forward to working with Senator Bingaman's office on the thermal study and other components of this legislation.”

The U.S. Clean Heat & Power Association also expressed support of the bill, particularly the CHP provision. According to the association, 82 gigawatts (GW) of CHP are currently installed in the U.S., and estimates indicate the technical potential for additional CHP at existing sites in the U.S. to be between 130 and 170 GW, plus an additional 10 GW of waste heat recovery CHP.

—Anna Austin