Tenfold increase in renewable power could still allow price decrease

The US could increase the proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources to about 10 times current levels over the next 20 years, and still see a 13 percent decrease in electricity prices, according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Increasing the amount of electricity generated from wind, solar, plants and geothermal sources to these levels would freeze power plant emissions of carbon dioxide at about year 2000 levels, helping the US meet reduction targets set by the Kyoto global warming treaty.

Congress introduced six electricity deregulation bills in 1998 to ensure continued growth of generation from renewable sources.

The UCS report, A Powerful Opportunity: Making Renewable Electricity the Standard, examines the costs and benefits of these federal proposals to date.

The report contrasts a strong proposal by Senator James Jeffords (Republican, Vermont), which would increase renewables to 20 percent of electricity generation by 2020, and a weaker proposal by the Clinton Administration, which would result in a share of 5.5 percent by 2010.

“Congress has a powerful opportunity to clean up America’s electricity by making renewable energy the standard,” said Steve Clemmer, Senior Energy Analyst at UCS and main author of the report. “Our report shows that even the strongest proposals in Congress are very affordable and will make major strides in improving the environment.”

In the next 20 years electricity costs are expected to fall as expensive existing power plants are replaced with cheaper and more efficient ones.

UCS found that under every federal proposal to increase renewables, electricity bills would still be lower than today’s bills. The proposals would dedicate a fraction of those savings to develop clean new technologies, while reducing air pollution and the threat of global warming.

For example, under the Jeffords proposal, a typical household’s average monthly electricity bill would decline from $40 today to $35.47 in 2020: only $1.33 less in monthly savings than if reliance on conventional power plants continues at present levels.

“Federal proposals to deregulate the electricity industry would repeal current laws that support renewable energy,” said Alan Nogee, UCS Energy Program Director. “Yet, poll after poll has shown that Americans want more renewable energy. It is critical that a deregulated electricity market allow a new generation of clean energy technologies to compete.”

A companion report, Powerful Solutions: 7 Ways to Switch America to Renewable Electricity shows that eight states have already adopted minimum renewable energy requirements. Seven states have also adopted new renewable energy funds, totalling about $1 billion over the next 10 years. Based on California’s experience, these funds will likely leverage an additional $2 billion in private investment. Together, these state initiatives will likely provide enough renewable electricity over the next 10 years to power 4 million homes.

“States as diverse as Connecticut, Iowa, Arizona, and California have demonstrated national leadership in developing new renewable technologies that can clean up the environment, create jobs, and increase our fuel diversity and energy independence,” said Nogee.

Many studies have shown that renewables would create more jobs and income than investments in coal and natural gas power plants. For example, a Wisconsin report found that renewables could provide six percent of the state’s electricity and add 3,300 new jobs, $81 million in disposable income, and $165 million in gross state product.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie