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Surprising Roadmaps for Renewables

Peter Asmus — September 26, 2011

Last week, I served as a moderator of a panel entitled “State Policies: Cross-Cutting Issues” at the 3rd Annual RETECH Conference in Washington, DC.  Some surprising state-level developments emerged during the session.

Melissa Ritter, with Pace Global Energy Services, summed up the status of various Renewable Electricity Standards (RES), Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and other key drivers of both wholesale and distributed renewables.  (RES is now the preferred term for what was formerly known as Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).) Ritter’s most interesting chart showed that if one compared the level of total renewable energy developed from each of the state RES targets to the proposed Bingaman federal RES (which was a 15% standard), the total amount of renewables to come online by 2030 was about the same. 

Ted Ko, executive director of the San Francisco-based CLEAN Coalition, supports a greater reliance on wholesale renewable distributed generation such as solar photovoltaics (PVs) with Feed-In Tariffs (FITs).  The term CLEAN ‒ which stands for “Clean Local Energy Accessible Now” ‒ is being used instead of the term of FITs because focus groups found that “tariffs” sound too much like “taxes” to American ears.  CLEAN goes beyond the FIT concept by streamlining the interconnection procedures between utilities.  Cumbersome interconnection procedures have been found to be an even bigger hurdle to successful projects than financing in today’s depressed economy.  The CLEAN Coalition focuses on solar PV systems between 1 and 20 MW that feed into the wholesale distribution grid. 

Despite the fact that California has 70 times the solar resource as Germany, Germany has added 28 times the amount of solar PV capacity of California.  All of the U.S. states (save Alaska) have better solar resources than Germany.  Despite the impression that FIT programs in Germany are high-priced, Ko claims that installation cost savings in Germany (due to a more robust and experienced workforce) actually result in equivalent or lower installation costs for solar PV systems than in the United States.

The other interesting presenter was Alan Nogee, former director of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) campaign to pass RES legislation at the state and federal level.  He has become an independent consultant due to his disillusionment with Congress’ failed efforts to pass carbon and renewable-energy legislation.

Nogee’s main message: Maybe compromise is not such a bad thing.  Even watered-down standards that include nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas would still add significant renewable capacity.  He disagrees about just relying upon state RPS, since a federal law would send a better signal to the global marketplace that America is committed to cleantech.  He noted that over half of the states that passed relatively modest RES/RPS goals increased these targets once renewable energy programs picked up momentum.  Furthermore, two states with some of the weakest goals on paper – Texas and Iowa – are now the two top states for wind power in the United States. 

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