Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Clean Power Alternatives for Energy Independence

The public is fed up. They know that every barrel of oil we import from the Middle East helps regimes who don't share America's interest. Every gallon of gas burned on America's roadways contributes to asthma for children. And every time we import our energy, we're creating jobs abroad instead of here at home. There are alternatives to America's current dependence on foreign energy supplies. But don't look to the federal government to solve them. Their response to America's energy crisis is to give tax breaks to multinational energy companies raking in record profits -- a solution that is as short-sighted as it is unhelpful.

But where D.C. has dropped the ball, states are picking it up with more solutions than ever. The solutions are also building new and unique coalitions in the state -- between conservationists worried about climate change, unions and contractors interested in building jobs, public health advocates who want cleaner air, and national security voters who want to see America less dependent on the Middle East. So what are states doing?

One set of approaches includes regulations to encourage the use of renewable fuels and to promote conservation generally. Among the policies being considered and enacted are:

Renewable Portfolio Standards (also known as Renewable Energy Standards) require energy wholesalers to buy a set share of their energy portfolio from clean renewable sources and Renewable Energy Targets set statewide goals for renewable energy development--policies that have been adopted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Renewable Fuel Standards increase alternative fuel use at the retail level, especially at the gas pump -- a key tool for cutting oil imports that have been enacted in Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington.

Small Appliance Energy Efficiency Legislation requires appliances to use less energy, helps families save money, and helps the environment -- Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington all have standards tougher than the federal government.

Other measures use the taxation and budgetary power to drive development of energy alternatives:
Bonding Issues help drive investment in renewable energy technology and efficiency measures and are in place across the country, including California, Montana, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.
Investing public funds in renewable development and energy efficiency through
Public Benefits Funds (also known as Systems Benefits Funds) already operating in 25 states.

Public Pension Investments, as being tried in California, can allow states to harvest the public benefits and profits from renewables development.
There are also a number of
Tax Incentive strategies for promoting renewables development.

Finally, there are strategies that simply alter the energy market landscape to make energy companies friendlier to renewable development and encouraging entrepreneurship. All this takes is a little shifting of incentives from old ways of thinking. Net Metering and Interconnection help small alternative energy producers sell off excess energy directly onto the energy grid, replacing the old model where only major power plants could distribute energy to consumers. New energy micro-projects allow for small producers to become players in the energy marketplace, as long as barriers don't stand in their way. Interconnection legislation makes it more affordable for small producers to join transmission networks. Net Metering ensures that when small producers create more energy than they use, and feed that excess into the transmission system, that they are fairly compensated for their power. New Jersey leads the nation in these policies, which are key to creating clean energy entrepreneurship.

Oregon realized that utilities had a disincentive to promote energy efficiency and came up with a unique
Decoupling policy to ensure that the business interest and the public interest are the same. The lesson in state-after-state is that all that is holding back renewable energy development is a lack of federal leadership and the limits of our own imaginations.
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