U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, joined Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) on Thursday in introducing the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012, a bill aimed at modernizing our nation's power sector and guiding it toward a future in which more and more electricity is generated with cleaner energy.
"Passing a national clean energy standard would send a strong signal to our economy that there is a clear path for making smart investments in a range of domestic energy resources and technologies," Senator Coons said. "The clean energy market is important to America's long-term economy and national security, and it's important that we take steps now to ensure that market is strong. This bill, which I am proud to cosponsor, is a strong step in that direction, and I applaud Chairman Bingaman for his leadership on it."
"There is no question that there will be a cleaner energy future for the world, and there is no question that there will continue to be dramatic advances in the technology through which we generate, store, distribute and access energy," Senator Coons said at a press conference Thursday announcing the bill. "The only question is whether American companies, American workers, and American communities will derive the benefit from these dramatic advances of this innovation and these new technologies, or whether we will watch an enormous moment of opportunity in the world economy pass us by." (Audio and video of this quote is available.)
The Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (CES) employs a straightforward, market-based approach that encourages a wide variety of electricity-generating technologies. It sets a national goal for clean energy and establishes a transparent framework that lets resources compete based on how clean they are, then gets out of the way and lets the market and American ingenuity determine the best paths forward.
Under the plan, all generators of clean energy are given credits based upon their carbon emissions, with greater numbers of credits given to generators with lower emissions per unit of electricity. This flexible framework naturally allows a wide variety of sources (solar, wind, nuclear, natural gas, coal with carbon capture and storage, etc.) to be used to meet the standard, allows market forces to determine what the optimal mix of technologies and fuels should be, and makes it easy for new technologies to be incorporated.
"Our country needs an energy strategy that doesn't pick winners and losers," Senator Coons said. "We need an "all of the above' strategy that takes advantage of the diverse array of energy sources within America's reach. A clean energy standard is built on a creative, bipartisan idea for driving clean-energy innovation and ingenuity. I hope this bill accelerates a conversation in Washington that brings industry leaders with manufacturers, environmental advocates, and lawmakers to increase domestic energy production in an economically and environmentally sustainable way."
To be considered "clean," a generator must either be a zero-carbon source of energy, like renewables and nuclear power, or emit less carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than a modern, efficient coal plant. Accounting for "clean" this way means that the cleanest resources have the greatest incentive to become even more efficient.
The CES does not put a limit on overall emissions, nor does it limit the growth of electricity generation to meet the demands of a growing economy. All that the CES requires is that the electricity we do use and add to our fleet gradually becomes cleaner over time.
Also, the CES does not cost the government anything, and it doesn't earn revenue for the government. If any money does happen to come into the Treasury as a result of the program, it goes straight back to the particular state from which it came to fund energy efficiency programs.
In addition to Chairman Bingaman and Senator Coons, original cosponsors of the Clean Energy Standard Act include Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.).