Teresa Hansen, editor in chief
I’ve said before that our federal lawmakers have failed the electricity industry by not creating and passing a comprehensive energy policy. The debate about what is needed in an energy policy continues in Washington D.C., but little comes from it. Such is the case with the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (CES). On May 17, in a Senate and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the CES its attributes and flaws were debated, largely along party lines. Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the legislation’s main sponsor, said it is designed to “create a market oriented standard for electric generation that stimulates clean energy, innovation and promotes a diverse set of low- and zero-carbon generation solutions in the U.S. at the lowest incremental cost to electric consumers.”
Many, including Howard Gruenspecht, Energy Information Administration (EIA) deputy administrator, say the legislation would cause electricity prices to increase. An EIA analysis indicates that complying with CES could increase price levels from 3 to 30 percent for some utilities and consumers, depending on the region. I’m not sure if the wide range in percentage reflects the difference in regions of the U.S. or if it reflects the fact that the real percentage is anyone’s guess.
On May 16, I participated in a conference call about CES and clean energy. The speakers included U.S. Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., and David Crane, NRG Energy Inc.’s president and CEO. The call was sponsored by Media Matters, which according to its mission statement is “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media,” and Environmental Entrepreneurs, an affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Both organizations favor CES, which I understood going into the call. While each speaker made valid arguments, those opposed to CES would have no trouble countering them.
I was interested in and surprised by some of Crane’s views and comments. And, because NRG is one of the country’s largest power generation and retail electricity businesses with more than 25,000 MW of generation capacity and retail and thermal subsidiaries serving more than 2 million customers in 16 states, I respect Crane’s opinion. He pointed out that the largest part of NRG’s business is in Texas, a deeply conservative state and he does not consider the clean energy space as something dominated by “tree-hugging environmentalists.” He said also that he is a dyed in the wool capitalist but doesn’t believe the free market will solve the nation’s need for fuel diversity. He said a U.S. clean energy standard will make sure the electric system does not become overly dependent on one fuel, the way the country’s transportation system has.
Crane is a proponent of solar power. He said NRG has nearly $5 billion of solar projects under construction or operating in the U.S., making it the largest solar power company in the country. He said government incentives, especially federal loan guarantees, were an important part of these projects and allowed them to be much larger than they could have been if his company had depended on only private sector investment. Crane is a firm believer that renewable energy projects, especially solar, have created many jobs. Solar technology’s cost is dropping and will continue to do so, which will make it affordable for many homeowners who will eventually begin selling power back into the grid, Crane said.
It was clear that Crane believes we need an energy policy supporting clean energy and that clean energy is good for America. I agree with him. Many can argue against the CES and some did on May 17. Our lawmakers should debate the issues; however, they also should find a way to cross the aisle and agree on a policy that promotes clean energy and ensures it will be a part of the U.S. energy mix.
Teresa Hansen, editor in chief