Frank Andorka, editorial director of our sister publication Solar Power World, shares an interview with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), current Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. On March 1, Senator Bingaman introduced legislation to create the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012, which would help all clean energy sources progress by creating one national standard for clean energy sources. This would eliminate some of the uncertainty surrounding clean energy and potentially encourage private sector investment. Senator Bingaman took time out of his busy schedule to respond to SPW’s email questions. It should be noted that Senator Bingaman will be retiring after this session.
SPW: What sparked your interest in developing a Clean Energy Standard (CES)?
Senator Bingaman: President Barack Obama called for a Clean Energy Standard (CES) in his 2011 State of the Union. In the past, Clean Energy Standards in the Senate have received bipartisan support with Senators [Peter] Domenici (R-NM) [Editor’s Note: Senator Domenici retired from the Senate in 2008 because of health concerns.], [Lyndsey] Graham (R-SC) and [Richard] Lugar (R-IN) and others, supporting their own versions in the past. In the current difficult political environment, my hope is to restart a serious conversation on clean energy by putting out a proposal based on ideas that have had bipartisan support in the past.
SPW: Why do you think a Clean Energy Standard is critical to the development of cleaner energies in the United States?
Senator Bingaman: The CES is critical to the development of cleaner technologies because it provides a transparent and long-term market signal that clean energy developers can plan around. Right now, we have a series of tax incentives that has been helpful to the clean energy industry. That being said, their on-again, off-again nature has also provided hurdles for planning. The Clean Energy Standard would spell out the rules for the road for the next 20 years or so, in a way that would be easy for all clean technologies to plan around.
The crediting of clean energy is tied to the amount of carbon dioxide that a generator emits per megawatt hour generated as compared with a new, highly efficient coal plant. This lets many technologies receive partial credits for emitting less carbon than coal, and means that technologies that emit zero carbon dioxide like solar, wind, nuclear, or hydro, receive the greatest incentive. This way, the market will adjust to figure out what the optimal mix of technologies and fuels should be.
SPW: What would your legislation do to improve the competitiveness of the U.S. solar industry vis a vis its international competitors?
Senator Bingaman: Nothing. This bill is technology neutral. It’s the ideal mix of incentivizing good policy without picking winners and losers.
SPW: I know you and others have introduced CES legislation in previous sessions. Do you foresee that the legislation has a better chance of passing this session than in past ones (and if so, why)?
Senator Bingaman: I have not proposed a CES before, although several Republicans have. I’ve introduced a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) that would set a standard for utilities to generalize a percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. More than 50 percent of states have implemented from form of an RES, but no Federal standard exists. There is no question that it’s going to be difficult to get any significant energy legislation, like a CES, passed this Congress. Focusing the discussion on the concept is an important step, though, to improve the legislation and its prospect for passage in a future Congress.
SPW: What obstacles do you foresee having to overcome to pass this legislation, and what is your strategy to overcome them?
Senator Bingaman: In terms of strategy going forward, I look forward to meeting with both Democrats and Republicans to discuss their concerns and see if there’s anything we can do to address those concerns.