Energy & Environment

The Last Green Puppy: Still a Dog Named ‘Cap’

Should Senate Republicans turn the “last living puppy” out in the cold this fall?

Yes, because in this case the “last living puppy,” according to Grist.org writer David Roberts, is the so-called renewable electricity standard (RES), which Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) says he will try to make the consolation prize in this Congress’ final clash over global warming regulation.

What is RES and why should Senate Republicans—pay attention Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) and Sen. George Voinovich (R.-Ohio—make sure it is put to sleep (permanently)?
An RES would require that electric utilities generate a set percentage of their power from so-called “renewable” power sources, like solar and wind, by a certain date. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed in June 2009 would require that utilities generate 20% of their power from renewables by the year 2020.

This would be quite the monumental challenge given that solar and wind power provide less than 2% of current electricity generation and require massive subsidies to do so. According to the Department of Energy, solar and wind are each subsidized at a rate 55 times that of coal, 97 times that of natural gas and 15 times that of nuclear power.

Solar panels and windmills aside, it’s the taxpayer wallet that makes these forms of energy renewable.

But even cost is not the main reason for rejecting the arbitrary targets and deadlines of a national RES.

Imagine a utility that generates 100% of the electricity it sells by burning coal. Impose the Waxman-Markey RES standard on that utility and, all of a sudden, only a maximum of 80 of its electricity can be generated by coal. In other words, the utility’s use of coal has been capped.

Since the passage of the Waxman-Markey bill, Americans have been up in arms against cap-and-trade. But the same reasons for opposing cap-and-trade can and ought to be applied to RES, which ought to be labeled as calling cap-and-subsidize.

Under cap-and-trade, electric utilities would be compensated for higher generation costs by charging consumers more for electricity and by selling billions of dollars of carbon credits, which they received for free courtesy of taxpayers. Under RES, electric utilities would be similarly compensated for higher generation costs, courtesy of over-charged consumers and untold billions in taxpayer subsidies.

So the difference between RES and cap-and-trade is merely form of the consumer/taxpayer rip-off.

But not every Republican in Congress yet understands this.

Sen. Brownback recently stated that he could support a “modest” RES where energy efficiency gains count toward the RES standard. Sen. Voinovich previously indicated he could consider an RES that included so-called “clean coal” as a form of renewable energy.

Whatever RES deal Senators Brownback and Voinovich might try to cut with Senate Majority Leader Reid, rest assured that the only part of it that would be kept and enforced would be the “cap.”

Energy efficiency gains are uncertain and difficult to ascertain. Clean coal, insofar as it implies so-called “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), is far closer to fantasy than reality given its multi-trillion dollar costs, and physical and political challenges.

Cap-and-trade is dead. As adorable and palatable as advocates will try to make it sound, RES is just a different flavor of an idea that has already been euthanized.

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