Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., on Wednesday introduced a bill that would establish a 50% renewable energy standard (RES) across the U.S. by 2035.
The bill would establish annual targets starting in 2020 requiring renewables generation for utilities based on their size. 17.6% of U.S. electricity was powered by renewables at the end of 2018, according to the Energy Information Association.
Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia have renewable portfolio standards (RPS), but only 11 of those plans meet or exceed the proposed 50% federal standard. Any state with a renewable portfolio standard that meets or exceeds the federal RES could opt out of that standard.
Though more states are successfully implementing aggressive clean energy standards, pushing a similar standard at the federal level might be more difficult with a divided House and Senate. During the midterm elections, every state legislature in the country, except Minnesota's, shifted to single party control. And every state that has passed a clean energy mandate in 2019 is controlled by a Democratic legislature.
Thus far, the bill has four Democratic sponsors and one independent: Sen. Udall, along with Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Angus King, I–Maine. The "RES has gotten GOP votes in Senate votes before," Udall Press Secretary Annie Orloff told Utility Dive in an email, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Under the bill, each new kilowatt-hour of renewable energy would be eligible for a renewable energy credit from the federal government and the Secretary of Energy would be required to submit a plan to Congress aiming to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The bill would require utilities with a capacity larger than 1 million MWh to ramp up their renewables generation by 1.5% annually starting in 2020, 2% through 2029 and 2.5% through 2035. That rate is cut in half for utilities with an annual output smaller than 1 million MWh.
Solar, wind, ocean, tidal, geothermal energy, biomass, landfill gas, incremental hydropower and hydrokinetic energy all qualify as renewable resources under the bill. Another Clean Energy Standard was introduced in the House of Representatives last month that would allow low- or zero-emitting resources, such as low carbon coal and nuclear to qualify.
The Senate bill drew wide support from clean energy and climate activists. In particular, environmentalists cheered its consistency with findings from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported that humans must reduce emissions 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 in order to avoid average global temperatures rising 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, which scientists say could bring about catastrophic environmental challenges.
"We needed to do this yesterday," said Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS) President Ken Kimmell in a statement. "People around the country are dealing with dangerously high temperatures, rising seas, deadly wildfires, torrential rainfalls and devastating hurricanes. These climate-related impacts will only get worse if carbon emissions continue unabated, and one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to cut carbon pollution is with renewable energy."
A UCS analysis found the bill would cut natural gas and coal usage by 38% and 97%, respectively, lead to $34 billion in net savings on customer energy bills, "with slightly higher electricity bills more than offset by lower natural gas bills," and reduce power sector carbon emissions 46% by 2035.
Though carbon emissions have been declining for several years, a Ceres report earlier this month found that CO2 emissions from the 100 largest U.S. power providers rose 1% from 2017 to 2018, likely due to natural gas' rapid replacement of coal aligned with increased power demand.
"The power sector needs to really completely decarbonize by mid century, and even before that, for a below 2º change," Ceres' Senior Director of Electric Power Dan Bakal told Utility Dive. "So what [the report] suggests is that we are seeing the industry head generally in the right direction, but there is certainly not full alignment with a 2º, or well below 2º, scenario."
Udall is currently in conversations with Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala. and Joe Manchin D-W.Va., chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, on getting the bill a hearing in the committee, E&E News reported.
States with clean energy standards at or above 50%
|State||Clean Energy Standard|
|Washington||100% carbon free by 2045|
|California||60% renewables by 2030, 100% carbon free by 2045|
|Nevada||50% renewables by 2030, 100% carbon free by 2050|
|New Mexico||80% renewables by 2040, 100% carbon free by 2045|
|Colorado||100% renewables by 2040 (not legislatively mandated)|
|Maryland||50% renewables by 2030|
|District of Columbia||100% renewables by 2032|
|New Jersey||50% by 2030|
|New York||70% renewables by 2030, 100% carbon free by 2040|
|Maine||100% renewables by 2050|
|Hawaii||100% renewables by 2045|
States with Renewable Portfolio Standards below 50%
|Oregon||50% by 2040 for large IOUs, 25% by 2025 for large consumer-owned utilities, smaller utilities 10% by 2025 and smallest 5% by 2025|
|Arizona||15% by 2025|
|Montana||15% by 2015|
|North Dakota||10% by 2015|
|Iowa||105 MW, year not specified|
|Kansas||20% by 2020|
|Oklahoma||15% by 2015|
|Texas||10,000 MW by 2025|
|Missouri||15% by 2021|
|Minnesota||31.5% for Xcel by 2020, 26.5% for other IOUs and 25% for other utilities|
|Wisconsin||10% by 2015|
|Michigan||15% by 2021|
|Illinois||25% by 2025-2026|
|Ohio||12.5% by 2026|
|Pennsylvania||18% by 2020-2021|
|South Carolina||2% by 2021|
|North Carolina||12.5% for IOUs by 2021 and 10% by 2018 for electric cooperatives and municipal utilities|
|Virginia||15% by 2025|
|Rhode Island||38.5% by 2035|
|Delaware||25% by 2025-2026|
|Massachusetts||15% by 2020 and an additional 1% each year after|
25.2% by 2025
48% by 2030
|Indiana||10% by 2025|
|Utah||20% by 2025|