WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today raised serious concerns about the nation’s ability to meet a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) requiring utilities to generate as much as 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2021.
At a hearing Thursday of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski questioned Secretary of Energy Steven Chu about the impact the nation’s limited transmission capacity, and the narrow definition of “renewable” in proposed legislation, would have on the ability of states to meet a 20 percent RES.
Chutestified that the nation’s current transmission system is “not suitable” to meet a 20 percent by 2021 mandate. Instead, Chu said the country would need to expand its transmission capabilities “concurrently” with a rising RES mandate. By 2020, Chu said he “hopes we’ll be well along to building a system.”
While Murkowski supports building up the nation’s transmission system, she said it doesn’t make sense to impose a one-size-fits-all mandate on the nation when we know we constrained by the capacity of our infrastructure.
“In order for an RES to work, it must make the connection with transmission,” Murkowski said. “We can’t force utilities to meet a 20 percent requirement if they lack access to renewable energy at any price.”
“If we’re going to go down the path of establishing a national mandate, it has to be achievable,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski also reiterated her concerns about the affects a national RES would have on different regions of the country – particularly the Southeast – that lack an abundance of “qualifying” renewable resources.
In response to questions from Murkowski, Chu acknowledged that the Southeast’s only approved renewable energy source would be biomass. Chu said he was willing to work with the committee on what would be an eligible energy resource for meeting an RES mandate.
“It’s important that we recognize the potential contribution of non-fossil fuel energy sources that are carbon neutral,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski said she supports the bipartisan effort of 13 senators who sent a letter to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman and Murkowski urging the committee to expand the definition of ‘renewable.’
Chu told the committee he supports new hydro and that “anything that reduces carbon is something that we should nurture.”
Murkowski raised concerns about how to reconcile existing state renewable electricity standards – 29 states, plus Washington, D.C. already have programs – with a national program and the cost to consumers.
Murkowski supports funding for renewable and alternative energy, and is an ardent supporter of increasing their use to meet the nation’s energy demands. However, she insists that the actual cost to families and the economy be kept in mind when writing energy legislation.
Murkowski repeated her preference for the full committee to hold a second hearing on RES and how the Department of Energy and the Obama administration would implement a national mandate.