By Jesse Berst
Just as utilities are beginning to get a handle on the new EPA rules and the impacts of ultra-cheap natural gas, proposed new legislation could add more uncertainty. Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., has suggested a nationwide clean electricity standard. The result could put much of the burden of reducing greenhouse gases onto the shoulders of electric power utilities.
In an editorial titled "A viable clean-energy bill at last?" the Washington Post writes that the proposal requires utilities "derive a defined portion of their electricity from technologies that emit fewer greenhouse emissions than coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Critically, any electricity technology - wind, solar, natural gas, nuclear or something entirely new - can get credit, scaled in accordance to the improvement it offers."
Although the Post seems to feel the bill is better than nothing, it admits that its approach has flaws.
"Some regions could see higher price hikes, others lower," the Post writes.
"Lawmakers considering the idea will have to examine ways to prevent energy-intensive industries from fleeing the country. There is also a lot that a clean electricity standard cannot accomplish. It targets just one sector of the economy - electricity - when there are carbon emissions that can be wrung out of all sorts of activities at relatively low cost."
Despite these issues, the Post concludes that the bill "could hold the most political appeal of any big approach to carbon cutting. It is harder to construe as a tax increase, and it explicitly benefits GOP favorites, such as natural gas and nuclear energy, as well as Democratic ones, such as solar and wind energy. After many years of lawmakers proposing less appealing versions of the same idea, there's now a solid draft on the table."
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Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.