National renewable standard proposed

Piper Foster
Mark Udall

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Piper Foster believes a national renewable energy standard would do for the United States what a state standard has done for Colorado in promoting capital investments and job creation.

“I’m absolutely making the case economically,” said Foster, president of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association board of directors.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall agrees in introducing legislation that would enact a national standard that would require utilities to provide at least a fourth of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.

“Clean energy creates jobs, spurs innovation, reduces global warming and makes us more energy independent,” Udall stated in a news release announcing the legislation. “This common sense proposal would extend Colorado’s successful effort to expand the use of renewable energy alongside natural gas and coal to the entire nation.”

Udall (D-Colo.) and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall ( D-N.M.) introduced the legislation as an amendment to an energy efficiency measure before the Senate. Mark Udall introduced similar legislation during the last session of Congress and also led an effort in 2010 to enact a national renewable energy standard.

Tom Udall stated in the news release he’s long fought for what he called a “do it all, do it right” energy strategy. “A national RES is a critical part of maximizing our country’s energy potential.”

The legislation would establish a national threshold for utilities to provide an increasing proportion of electricity from solar and wind power and other sources of renewable energy. The threshold would gradually increase up to 25 percent by 2025.

Colorado is among 29 states that already have implemented renewable energy standards. By one estimate, the standards applied to 55 percent of retail electricity sales in the U.S. in 2012.

In Colorado, voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 setting a 10 percent renewable energy standard by 2015 for investor-owned utilities. State legislation enacted in 2007 doubled the standard to 20 percent by 2020. Legislation enacted in 2010 increased the standard again to 30 percent.

Earlier this year, additional legislation was enacted that doubles the proportion of electricity that must be provided by renewable energy sources to 20 percent by 2020 for cooperative electric associations and utilities that supply power to electric associations.

Foster said the environmental benefits of renewable energy standards can be touted, but the economic benefits also are important. And the renewable energy standard in Colorado has been a “jobs engine,” she said.

Nearly 270 companies employ a total of about 3,600 people in the solar industry alone in Colorado, Foster said. That workforce ranks as the sixth largest among states, she added. Foster herself works as vice president of marketing and sales for Amatis Controls, an Aspen-based company that manufactures monitoring and control equipment for solar power systems.

Foster said a report commissioned by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association and conducted by the Solar Foundation calculated that the solar energy industry contributed $1.42 billion to the Colorado economy between the beginning of 2007 and the first quarter of 2013.

The installation of nearly 250 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity during that span created the equivalent of about 10,700 full-time jobs with total employee earnings of more than $534 million. State and local tax revenues were estimated to total between $34.1 million and $59.7 million.

Solar power increasingly constitutes a “mainstream” source of electricity not only for utilities, but also for homeowners who install rooftop systems or buy shares from community systems, Foster said. And the amount of electricity generated by solar power is expected to continue to grow not only in Colorado, but nationwide, she added.

The Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association has joined in an effort to increase solar energy capacity in the state by 2030 to 3 gigawatts — roughly the equivalent of installing solar systems on 1 million roofs. Realizing that goal would produce $3.85 billion in economic output and create almost 32,500 full-time jobs, Foster said.

According to additional information from Mark Udall’s office in Washington, D.C., a national renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025 would promote $263.4 billion in capital investment and create 274,000 to 297,000 jobs, about half of those in manufacturing.

Local tax revenues would increase an estimated $11.5 billion.

Farmers, ranchers and other landowners in rural areas would earn $13.5 billion  in payments for leasing property for wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and other renewable energy systems.

The information from Udall’s office also addressed questions about whether or not a 25 percent national renewable energy standard is feasible and how the standard would affect utility rates.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that state standards will require the generation of 94 gigawatts of electricity from new renewable sources by 2035 — about 3 gigawatts to 5 gigawatts a year through 2020 and 2 gigawatts to 3 gigawatts through 2035. Those additions have ranged from 6 gigawatts to 13 gigawatts in all but one year since 2008.

At the same time, a study of 14 states with renewable energy standards conducted by the laboratory found that consumers in only one of those states experienced electricity rate increases above 1.6 percent. Xcel Energy reported that the Colorado renewable energy standard ultimately will save consumers as much as $100 million over 25 years.

According to the information from Udall’s office, a national renewable energy standard is expected to lower utility bills, saving consumers $64.3 billion by 2025 and $95.5 billion by 2030.