U.S. energy future depends on a consistent, national policy
Fri, Oct 07 2011 at 9:51 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
They’re not making any more dinosaurs these days.
That’s what I tell my kids from time to time to remind them why it’s important to turn out the lights when they leave a room. It’s also one reason why the United States needs a consistent, sustainable, long-term energy policy.
Oil, gas and coal — our major energy sources today — are not renewable. They are cheap, abundant and reliable, but they’re finite resources that won’t be around forever. As our region grows, so too will its energy needs. Improving the energy efficiency of our homes, factories, farms and office buildings is the first step toward using this energy wisely. But we also must be thoughtful about adding renewable sources of energy like wind, solar and biomass to our traditional mix of resources.
The time has come for a long-range national plan for energy development. Today, utilities must plan and operate under a patchwork of energy policies which, with the volatility of gas and oil prices, and the uncertainty of federal incentives for renewable energy projects, has resulted in regional boom-and-bust development cycles. We need Congress to craft a national energy policy that addresses the concerns of all stakeholders in a manner that is fair, affordable and technologically achievable across the country.
No doubt, there are differences of opinion about what a sustainable energy policy should look like because there is no “one-size fits all” solution. Minnesota passed energy legislation in 2007 that includes some of the nation’s most aggressive statewide goals for reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as increasing energy conservation and the use of renewable energy technologies.
The state’s mandate is to have 25 percent of total energy use come from renewable resources by 2025 (30 percent by 2020 for Xcel Energy). So far, all Minnesota utilities are on track to meet the 7 percent milestone for 2010, using a mix of renewable resources that include wind, biomass from municipal solid waste, anaerobic digesters and hydroelectric power.
However, renewable energy isn’t free. Like all new generation, it comes with a cost.
In 2010, the net cost of wind energy to Great River Energy’s member cooperatives in Minnesota was more than $16 million. As a result, retail customers saw 1.6 percent higher electric bills, which amounted to about $18 over the year for an average Minnesota homeowner. This is of special concern to Great River Energy now, because to encourage job growth throughout our entire economy, we need to keep energy costs affordable.
Energy utilities cannot live on renewables alone, so fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of our energy picture for the foreseeable future. However, we need a clearer roadmap to the future. A consistent and sustainable national energy policy would provide the surest path for all energy providers toward meeting our energy needs, reducing our impact on the environment and maintaining a high quality of life for ourselves and the next generation.
Mark Rathbun is the Renewable Energy Lead for Great River Energy.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.