Congress considers RPS

By Erin Voegele
Web exclusive posted Feb. 12, 2009, at 3:33 p.m. CST

U.S. Congressional members have proposed legislation to enact a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that would require a certain percentage of electricity sold to retail customers to be obtained from renewable sources, such as biomass, wind, solar and geothermal. Several states have enacted an RPS; however, there is no federal standard.

This may soon change. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate are currently working to develop RPS legislation. In the Senate, the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources recently released an outline for a proposed federal RPS. This proposal would require that 20 percent of energy sold to retail customers be sourced from renewable sources by 2020. Yearly percentages would be:
  • 4 percent from 2011 through 2012

  • 8 percent from 2013 through 2015

  • 12 percent from 2016 through 2018

  • 16 percent from 2019 through 2020

  • 20 percent from 2021 through 2039

In addition, the proposed Senate RPS would exclude existing hydropower generators and municipal solid waste generators from the base amount that the percentage requirements are calculated. Under the proposal, qualifying renewals would include wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and incremental hydropower. The federal mandates would not affect state programs.

Members of the House are also addressing the matter. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Maine, who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, along with Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., recently introduced a separate RPS proposal. That bill, known as H.R. 890, would ultimately require 25 percent of energy be sourced from renewable sources by 2025. Yearly percentages would be:
  • 6 percent from 2012 through 2013

  • 8.5 percent from 2014 through 2015

  • 11 percent from 2016 through 2017

  • 14 percent from 2018 through 2019

  • 17.5 percent from 2020 through 2021

  • 21 percent from 2022 through 2023

  • 23 percent in 2024

  • 25 percent from 2025 through 2039

The House legislation lists wind, solar, geothermal, biomass or landfill gas, qualified hydropower, as well as marine and hydrokinetic energy as qualifying for renewable status. For power generated through mixed renewable and non-renewable resources, renewable electricity credits would be based on the proportion of the electricity that is attributed to the renewable energy resource.

The House bill, H.R. 890, was introduced Feb. 4 and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. A hearing for the Senate proposal was held Feb. 10. Several witnesses testified at the hearing, including Ralph Izzo of the Public Service Enterprise Group; Don Furman, senior vice president of Iberdrola Renewables Inc.; David Wright, a commissioner representing the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; Scott Jones, executive vice president of the Forest Landowners Association; and Lester Lave, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

During the Senate hearing, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource, spoke of the compelling needs to pass RPS legislation. He said the standard could help reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. A RPS would help create greater economic stability and build our energy security while creating a green economy and green jobs, Bingaman added.

Alternatively, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, argued that states are in a better position to implement RPS standards. A one-size-fits-all national standard raises concerns about regional disparities, she said. If the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Murkowski said the legislation should include other non-carbon emitting technologies, such as nuclear.

During his testimony, Izzo expressed a strong desire to see a national RPS adopted. America should be leading this charge, he said. With the right national policy, Izzo said, America can develop the world's leading energy industry. Furman also urged members of Congress to enact a federal RPS. He said that while the targets proposed by the Senate are ambitious, they are certainly achievable.

Wright argued against the adoption of an RPS. He expressed concern that a federal mandate would fail to recognize that there are significant differences among the states in terms of available and cost-effective renewable energy resources. Having such a standard in energy legislation, he said, would ultimately increase consumers' energy bills.

Jones testimony included information specific to the forest industry and landowners. He encouraged members of Congress to expand the definition of woody biomass to include all wood crops, in addition to residues, wastes and byproducts. In addition to creating new markets for private forest landowners, Jones said a wider definition would contribute to forest health by removing hazardous wildfire fuels, speeding recovery from natural disasters, alleviating vegetative competition, and creating economic incentives that would deter the conversion of forest lands for other uses.

In his testimony, Lave urged Congress to place more focus on the reduction of carbon-emissions, tighten the definition of efficiency and eliminate the limit on its contribution. The legislation, he said, should give each region the greatest flexibility to achieve the goals at minimal cost, including focusing on renewables or conservation and fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration.

According to a press release issued by the law firm Stoel Rives LLP, the enactment of a federal RPS would significantly alter the demand for renewable energy. It also expected opposition to an RPS to be strong.

To view the text of H.R. 890, visit the Library of Congress Thomas Web site. An archived webcast of the Feb. 10 Senate hearing on the RPS proposal is available on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources Web site.