The Senate bill is a bipartisan effort, assembled by Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who have worked to find common ground and avoid controversial issues that could spark partisan divisions – including, for example, proposals for a national renewable energy standard or, conversely, proposals to block implementation of EPA’s carbon rules. As approved by the Senate in an overwhelming vote 85-12 on April 20, 2016, the bill is shaping up to be a mixed bag, with a number of provisions that advance renewable energy and a couple that are of concern. Most notable on the positive side are provisions that facilitate permitting of new hydropower projects and promote geothermal energy development on public lands. The most troubling of the negative provisions include a measure that undermines the credit subsidy in the DOE loan guarantee program and a measure that weakens the current requirement for new or renovated federal buildings to phase out fossil fuel consumption by 2030.
Summary of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, Emissions Trading and Clean Energy Incentive Program
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) sets state-specific CO2 emission reduction standards on existing fossil-fuel generating units (EGUs) to be achieved by 2030. The final CPP sets uniform national standards for EGUs based on averaging the emissions rates within the three interconnections (Eastern, Western and Texas) and sets performance standards for EGUs based on the “best system of emission reduction,” or BSER, Building Blocks 1-3. Building Blocks 1 and 2 account for efficiency improvements and increased dispatch (peaking) of existing power plants. Building Block 3 accounts for new renewable generation and estimates total penetration of domestic renewable capacity at 28% by 2030.
On March 17, the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) hosted its annual Renewable Energy Policy Forum, where speakers and attendees came to a broad consensus that consistent policy is the missing link in the national renewable energy playing field. Industry leaders noted that many had looked to the Clean Power Plan (CPP) as a source for political guidance. However, now that the climate rule has been put on hold, uncertainty remains. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) affirmed that the recent tax extenders for wind and solar will allow for the renewable industry to strategically prepare for upcoming years. But in order to achieve a more stable tableau for all renewables, Congress must agree on comprehensive tax reform – the Senator called the current tax code “a rotting dead carcass” and a “monument to yesteryear.” Business leaders also agreed that even negative consistent policy is preferable to inconsistency – and long-term consistent policy is not yet part of the American play book.
This year’s annual National Renewable Energy Policy Forum, hosted by ACORE, took place on the heels of an important policy update for key technologies. In December 2015, Congress approved a combined tax and budget package giving wind and solar what amounts to between five and seven years of policy “certainty” for investors and developers. But tax policy is only one part of the equation. We got another important boost that same month from the successful international climate meetings in Paris where 129 nations came together and, in essence, agreed to move to a low-carbon economy. But just a few weeks later, the Supreme Court issued a surprising stay of EPA’s carbon-cutting regulatory initiative, the Clean Power Plan, which threw sand in the gears of an implementation effort that was just gaining momentum. The stay is likely to delay implementation efforts by more than a year, even as states respond in dramatically different ways. In the meantime, it will be up to the renewable sector and its allies to maintain the public and private sector momentum behind the shift to renewable generation.
Below is our quick overview of the key discussions and leading news stories emerging from this year’s Policy Forum. Three major stories reported on from this year’s Policy Forum:
August 15 -- The annual National Clean Energy Summit on Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada, pointed up the promise and pitfalls of such events. >>View Article
August 13 -- Legislation designed to expand hydropower production in the United States by improving and streamlining the licensing process for small hydropower projects is now law. The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act were signed into law by President Obama. Previously, the Senate unanimously passed the legislation just before it adjourned for August; the House passed each bill with nearly unanimous support earlier in the year. >>View Article
August 13 -- Some people may have done a double take on July 11 when they saw me and fellow members of the Atlanta Tea Party celebrating next to the Sierra Club as it was announced that Georgia’s largest energy provider will invest in a huge increase in solar power. Why was the Tea Party rallying with groups across the aisle like the Sierra Club? >>View Article
August 12 -- This week, the EPA announced that it was adjusting the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in order to reflect market realities. As originally proposed earlier this year, the rule called for 14 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, but the final rule sets a requirement for 6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol this year. >>View Article
August 12 -- In a welcome development for the planet, the cars on American streets are becoming much more climate-friendly much sooner than many had expected. Consumers are increasingly buying fuel-efficient hybrid and electric vehicles thanks to breakthrough innovations and supportive government policies. >>View Article
August 9 -- With Congress deadlocked, a huge chunk of the action on clean energy in the United States is happening at the state level. Some 29 states and Washington D.C. have renewable standards requiring utilities to get a chunk of their power from sources like wind or solar. >>View Article