For at least a generation, Americans have been debating whether to enact a national energy policy. Past presidents have always suggested that one is necessary, but yet one still eludes our country. President Barack Obama called for a national clean-energy standard in his 2011 and 2012 State of the Union. Obama’s clean-energy standard calls for a comprehensive approach to clean up America’s electric generation fuel supply. In other words, a national policy that requires that electric generation be supplied by clean sources. Among those clean sources, Oklahomans will take note, Obama references America’s 100-year projected supply of natural gas that can be heavily utilized to meet this goal.
A quick political analysis shows just how polarizing this topic is. Republican messaging generally colors Obama’s national policy for electric generation as a so-called global warming conspiracy or pro-poverty policy.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who provided the Republican response to Obama’s 2012 State of the Union, characterized the plan by saying that it is “extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy … (that) jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, (it) is a pro-poverty policy.”
In stark contrast, Obama has characterized the establishment of a clean national energy policy as this generation’s sputnik moment.
All flourishes and political rhetoric aside, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in the last few weeks has introduced legislation and began hearings for a national clean-energy standard. Bingaman’s committee defines a clean-energy policy, or CES, as one that requires covered electricity retailers to supply a specified share of their electricity sales from qualifying energy resources. This is different than what is commonly referred to as a renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, similar to what Oklahoma currently has. A traditional RPS is a policy that requires covered electricity retailers to supply a specified share of their electricity sales from renewable sources. The key distinction is that traditional fossil fuels, like coal, natural gas, and nuclear (uranium) can be used to meet a CES. Comparatively, for a RPS, only renewable fuel sources such as solar or wind can be used to meet that policy and not fossil fuels. Generally, both of these policies can be commonly referred to as generation performance standards, or GPS.
Over the next few weeks this summer, I’ll unpack what a national clean-energy standard means by comparing existing similar state policies, analyzing the Energy Information Administration’s projected effect on America’s fuel mix, and discuss broadly what it might mean for you as an Oklahoman, an American citizen, and as a consumer of power.
Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.