June 12, 2007

Renewable Portfolio Standard: good for the environment or just for industry?

The U.S. Senate, like many state legislatures, is considering a "renewable portfolio standard", or RPS, as part of new energy law.

What is the goal of the RPS?

Is it to encourage the development of renewable energy sources (at least for electricity)? It does that, of course.

Is it meant to lower carbon and other emissions from fossil fuels? That is what its proponents say.

Yet there is no requirement for such a result.

Although the purported goal is reduced emissions, an RPS dictates only new building. Some of the mandated new sources may indeed effect reduced emissions from other sources, but that is not at all guaranteed. For example, wind energy on the grid has never been shown to cause a significant reduction in fossil fuel use.

And since wind energy is the only current renewable source that can be built to substantial capacity, an RPS is essentially a directive for huge amounts of new wind energy, with an implied free pass from proper environmental and community review.

If a utility builds giant wind energy facilities whose output equals, say, 15% of its average load, but it still maintains and builds "conventional" facilities as much as otherwise -- and in fact burns as much fossil fuels as before -- then what has the RPS achieved?

It has only ensured a greater movement of the people's money into the accounts of big energy developers. They, and the politicians they support, can claim to be "green" as they laugh all the way to the bank.

But the RPS has not reduced carbon or other emissions.

If that public good is in fact the goal, then that should be what the law requires: a carbon reduction standard.

Let the realities of energy production and conservation determine how that standard is achieved, not the spiels of industry lobbyists.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont