Renewable Generation of Electricity

July 8, 2008
09:43 AM

        Good morning. It is good to be in Albuquerque again.  I look forward to this morning’s hearing.  It is on a topic that holds great hope for the nation and particularly for this part of the country. 

        Today we are confronted by a number of difficulties that push us towards non-traditional sources of energy.  The price of oil, and the control of our supply by foreign nations, raises threats to both our national security and our economy.  The threat of catastrophic climate change further compels us to look for alternative ways to supply our growing thirst for energy both for transportation and for generating electricity. 

        We have embarked on an ambitious program to supply transportation fuels from renewable resources with the passage of the ethanol mandates in the last two energy bills.  It is time we did the same for renewable generation of electricity.

        For years, in fact, since 1978, the federal government has been trying to encourage the use of renewable resources for electricity generation.  We haven’t made much headway.  Currently about three percent of our electricity comes from non-hydropower renewables. 

        Recently, wind generation has been growing at a rapid rate.  Over the last two years it has been the fastest growing source of new generation.  That still leaves it with a small share of our generation mix, but it is growing.  Other technologies have lagged behind.

        Concentrating solar power has been pointed to as the next inheritor of the mantle that wind now wears.  The primary reason that wind power has outdone other renewables is that it is cheaper than other technologies.  It is about eight or nine cents per kilowatt hour, which is about the same as natural gas.  Many in the industry believe that concentrating solar power could reach that price range within five to ten years simply from the economies of scale that would come from installing a lot of it. 

        CSP has some advantages over wind power.  The biggest is that it is less intermittent.  In the parts of the country where the solar resource is best, it is much more predictable than wind.  It also may allow for easier storage of energy since it can use heat storage and does not depend on further development of battery technologies.  That makes it more responsive to the actually needs of the users of electricity. 

        There are many reasons for us to pursue the goal of greater deployment of concentrating solar power, as well as other renewable technologies.  The federal government must play its part.  I have long advocated that the tax credits for renewables be renewed for a long enough period to give the investors some stability.  We have been having a hard time this year getting the tax credit passed.  I believe that we will extend it for this year, and in the new Congress for a longer period.

        I also believe that we should enact a renewable electricity standard that would require utilities to acquire a set percentage of their electricity from renewables. 

        Another issue confronting all renewable generators is the inadequacy of the transmission system to carry the electricity that they would produce.  We held a hearing on that issue a couple of weeks ago that I hope leads to some productive solutions on that score.

        I would like to congratulate Public Service New Mexico, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy, and Tri-State for their announcement this week of a request for proposals for concentrating solar power generators to supply New Mexico Citizens.

        We have a panel here today that is made up of people from different sectors of the CSP industry.  We hope that they can help us to understand what more the federal government can do to get CSP established.  I look forward to the testimony.
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