June / July 2011 Volume 9 Number 3

25 by 25

A wise person once observed that “the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”  When it comes to the global race to develop clean energy, we believe the time to act is now—before the opportunity slips away.

  America got off to a strong start in this global race —solar power technology was invented in the United States decades ago.  For almost a century, America has had the advantage of having the biggest economy and the best innovators.  But our energy innovation policy since the 1970s has been an inconsistent effort characterized by regional rivalries and political slogans, like “drill, baby, drill.”  And in the last several years, partisan gridlock and complacency have conspired to hold us back.

 As a result, as we recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we find ourselves losing ground in the most promising manufacturing and innovation sector in the world economy: clean energy.  In 2010, we fell from first to third in annual private sector clean energy investments, behind China and Germany.  And the competition is intensifying.  China alone now plans clean energy investments of $738 billion dollars over the next decade—nearly the size of the entire American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

 These figures should jolt Congress into rapid action.  Our competitors are overtaking us in the emerging energy industries—not because they have better innovators—but because they have clear national policies that make them secure places to invest.

 We were glad to see President Obama announce plans to pursue a tangible goal to achieve energy independence.  We believe strongly that if we’re going to reclaim our leadership in the clean energy marketplace, we must pass a Renewable Electricity Standard, or RES, as a part of any national energy policy.

 Earlier this year, we introduced legislation that would require utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2025.  The bill would set the first national threshold for utilities to provide a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources with a 6 percent requirement by 2013, followed by gradual increases thereafter to meet the 25 percent by 2025 goal.
 
In an era of tight budgets, a national standard to achieve 25 percent of our electricity from renewable energy by 2025 will spare the taxpayers, and by diversifying our energy sources, offer electric consumers long-term price stability.  The president and others in Congress have a variation on our proposal, the Clean Energy Standard, which would set a higher standard for a combination of renewable energy, new nuclear power, natural gas and coal with advanced technology that eliminates global warming pollution. We will take a pragmatic approach to this alternative and work with the president and our fellow lawmakers, but an RES has several advantages.  First, renewable energy, while still an emerging industry, is commercially proven and scalable, with dozens of projects recently built and in the pipeline.

 Second, it’s a well-tested idea. Western states began leading the way on this front at the beginning of the last decade.  Today, 29 states and the District of Columbia have set their own standards in order to create an economical way to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.  While naysayers initially predicted an RES would lead to higher energy prices, the result has not only been good for air and water quality—it’s been a boon for their economies.

 For example, both Colorado and New Mexico have approved strong renewable electricity standards in our states that have boosted the market for renewables.  Xcel Energy, a large electric utility that operates in both states was once among the most vocal opponents of the RES and is now one of the leading advocates.  Both state’s legislature have ratcheted up these renewable standards in subsequent years to 20 percent by 2020 for New Mexico and 30 percent for Colorado.  Over that time period, Colorado and New Mexico have created thousands of clean energy jobs and attracted millions in investment capital, in part because of the increased demand for renewable energy.

 We believe that a national RES would help propel the United States to global leadership in the clean energy economy in much the same way.  A Navigant Consulting study found that an RES would create over a quarter of a million new American jobs in the first 10 years.  And energy research firm Wood Mackenzie found that an RES would lower natural gas and electricity prices and save more than $100 billion for American consumers.

 As we move forward on President Obama’s goal for a new energy policy, our bill will help inform the process by showing the support and potential for an RES.  Americans want to put our nation on a path toward energy independence, and establishing an RES is our best chance to get America running on homegrown energy, create good jobs and ensure we’re preparing for the future—today.