Bill Proposes Federal Standard For Renewable Electricity Generation

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A new Senate bill is proposing a target of at least 50% renewable electricity nationwide in 15 years, putting the U.S. on a trajectory to decarbonize the power sector by 2050.

Starting in 2020, the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) Act of 2019 would require electricity providers across the country to increase their supply of renewable energy each year. Under the bill, renewable energy is defined as solar, wind, ocean, tidal, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, incremental hydropower and hydrokinetic energy.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., along with U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; and Angus King, I–Maine.

The RES meets the recommendations of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5 C Special Report, which outlines standards that must be met to respond to the threat of climate change, the senators say.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to our environment, public health, way of life and security – requiring an immediate and aggressive federal response to achieve significant cuts in carbon emissions, as well as other pollutants that hurt our most vulnerable communities,” says Udall.

“Electricity-sector emissions are a large contributor to climate change, and we need to significantly ramp up the use of clean energy to blunt global temperature increases,” notes Whitehouse. “Our legislation will ensure continued transition of the electricity sector from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”

By requiring utilities in every state to increase their share of renewables at or above the federal floor and excluding existing renewable generation, no state is at a disadvantage because of where it is starting from, the senators explain.

Specifically, the bill would do as follows:

 Create a federal floor-setting standard that requires each retail electricity provider to increase its supply of renewable energy by a percentage of total retail sales each year, starting in 2020. 

 Each kilowatt-hour of electric energy generated by a new renewable resource will be entitled to a renewable electricity credit (REC), which will be turned in for compliance. Under limited circumstances, certain existing facilities that increase their generation, repower, or are not being used to meet a state’s RES or voluntary market demand could also receive RECs.

• Achieve at least 50% electricity from renewables in the U.S. by 2035 – roughly double business as usual and nearly triple current levels (17.6% in 2018).

 Require the U.S. secretary of energy to submit a plan to Congress for changes to the program post-2035 to achieve zero-carbon electricity by 2050.

According to Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, the bill proposes “a flexible framework for states to make meaningful power-sector carbon emissions cuts, fueled by market competition between renewable energy technologies.”

“This is the kind of policy, along with improvements to transmission planning and permitting, that is needed to build a 21st-century clean economy, drive major new investment in wind farms, grow demand for U.S. factories and cut consumer energy bills,” Kiernan adds.

“We need to put America on a path to a clean energy transition on a scale that matches the size of our environmental challenges,” comments Rob Sargent, clean energy program director for Environment America. “This bill will provide a major boost by laying the foundation for renewable energy progress everywhere.”

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, notes that the RES would “drive investment in our nation’s power generation infrastructure, improve affordability and reliability for consumers, and accelerate the ongoing transition to America’s renewable energy economy.”

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