Sunday, July 5, 2009

Waxman-Markey renewable standards: Hawai'i's way ahead of them

The first title of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, is about efficiency, as it should be. Also about developing renewable energy.

Unfortunately, ACES, as it's being called, doesn't require much efficiency or much renewable energy. Indeed, Hawai'i's electric utilities have already been beyond the proposed initial standards for years.

This post is part of our continuing series on the ACES legislation.

The bill's goal, as stated on its opening page, is; “To create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy.”

And as folks who install expensive solar photovoltaic systems know, the first thing you do before spending the cash is to get a handle on your demand. That's because watts you save through efficiency and conservation are far cheaper—often free—than the $5 to $10 you're spending per watt on a solar array.

Waxman-Markey ostensibly pushes utilities to do both: improve the performance of their existing systems and develop new renewable energy production. It's called the Combined Efficiency and Renewable Electricity Standard (CERES).

Any utility that sells more than 4 million megawatt hours during a year needs to comply with a strict step-up in its performance. It can apply either savings or renewable energy production toward a reduction of its overall energy oproduction.

Kaua'i's electric utility, the Kaua'i Island Utility Cooperative, does not sell enough power to meet the minimum sales standard, and thus is not regulated under the CERES language. Hawaiian Electric easily surpasses the minimum, and would be regulated.

But what does that regulation mean? Waxman-Markey was so diluted in late negotiations in the House of Representatives, that both KIUC and HECO easily already meet the standard through 2015. Both are already in excess of 10 percent renewable, and the CERES standards don't get past 9.5 percent until 2016.

Those standards eventually get up to 20 percent by 2020.

Well, shucks.

Hawai'i's Clean Energy Initiative commits to 70 percent efficiency and renwables by 2030—or 350 percent of the proposed federal standard. HECO has signed the HCEI pact.

Kauai Island Utility Co-op, which is not yet a signatory, has committed on its own to achieve 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2023. That's 250 percent of the Waxman-Markey standard.

John D. Wilson, Research Director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, summarized his reaction, at the blog, this way: “The American Clean Energy and Security Act has many good provisions... But the CERES is a flawed compromise that urgently requires review and repair.”

Of course, the kneejerk opponents of climate legislation are raising CERES up as some kind of monster. Here's what Ben Lieberman, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, had to say:

“The Waxman-Markey proposal requires that more electricity come from so-called renewable sources, chiefly wind energy but also others like biomass and solar. This renewable electricity standard (previous bills called it a renewable portfolio standard) is nothing more than a mandate for higher electricity bills.”

Well, of course, no. The efficiency side of the standard—reducing use through conservation and efficiency—is actually cheaper than burning oil and coal. And some of the renewables might be more expensive, but others would be cheaper. Particularly if oil goes back up to where it was last summer.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

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