A clean energy standard white paper was recently released in the U.S. Senate to solicit feedback stakeholder input on what that standard should include and how it should be attained. In this interview, Grist reporter David Roberts explains the concept behind a clean energy standard and how it would affect the nation's energy mix.
Roberts says the definition of a clean energy standard is not straightforward. Most people in politics, he says, are more familiar with a renewable energy standard, which requires that a certain percentage of electricity generation come from renewable sources, such as wind, solar or geothermal, and even those definitions are unclear. But a clean energy standard is much broader, he says, and includes natural gas, nuclear and carbon sequestration from coal plants -- basically everything except nonsequestered coal. So Roberts says it basically amounts to reducing the amount of coal that is used for U.S. electricity generation. It is difficult for the president to put it in those terms, because coal is well protected, politically.
Roberts believes the effects of a clean energy standard on U.S. energy and climate policy depends on the details of that standard. At this point, all those details are yet to be determined. Coal currently accounts for about 45 percent of U.S. electricity generation, but Obama's goal would cut that to 20 percent by 2035. All the other fine points of the plan are still to be determined. Still, Roberts believes that is a laudable goal, since burning coal is the top problem for the environmental movement.
It's also unclear how a national renewable energy standard would interact with existing state programs, Roberts says. It's one of the questions posed in the white paper that top members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee are circulating. Roberts calls a national standard that attempts to work with state standards "an unholy mess." He believes the worst case scenario for environmentalists would be for the national standard to ...