The bid to bring renewable power to the U.S. is facing a tougher time this year than in previous years.
The New York Times reported earlier this month, in “Cost of Green Power Makes Projects Tougher Sell,” that “even as many politicians, environmentalists and consumers want renewable energy and reduced dependence on fossil fuels, a growing number of projects are being canceled or delayed because governments are unwilling to add even small amounts to consumers’ electricity bills.”
Year-to-date installations of new wind power dropped 72 percent from 2009 levels, according to a press release from the American Wind Energy Association.
As authors Matthew Wald and Tom Zeller Jr. note, “Electricity generated from wind or sun still generally costs more — and sometimes a lot more — than the power squeezed from coal or natural gas.” That gap in price “can pit regulators, who see their job as protecting consumers from unreasonable rates, against renewable energy developers and utility companies, many of which are willing to pay higher prices now to ensure a broader energy portfolio in the future.”
One example: “The state public utilities commission in Rhode Island rejected a power-purchase deal for an offshore wind project that would have cost 24.4 cents a kilowatt-hour. The utility now pays about 9.5 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity from fossil fuels. The state legislature responded by passing a bill allowing the regulators to consider factors other than price. The commission then approved an agreement to buy electricity from a smaller wind farm.” That decision is being challenged in the courts.
“One of the problems in the United States is that we haven’t been willing to confront the tough questions,” Paul Gipe told the Times. Gipe sits on the steering committee of the Alliance for Renewable Energy. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we really want renewables?’” he said. “And if the answer to that is yes, then we’re going to have to pay for them.”
A new group out to articulate that tradeoff is the Progressive Business Leaders Network, self-described as “business leaders committed to socially and environmentally responsible economic growth and the public policies that advance it.”
Its Energy & Environment Working Group has, according to the website, “addressed the economics of wind energy, the impact of buildings on the environment, and increasing energy access, efficiency and affordability. Their current focus is the role business can play in addressing climate change and the economic and environmental implications of doing nothing.”
The working group is chaired by Mitch Tyson, CEO of Advanced Electron Beams, Inc., and coordinated by Roger Freeman, CEO of Solventerra LLC. The website lists policy positions and encourages business leaders to sign any or all of the statements, which PBLN may use publicly in its campaigns.
“A lot of our people feel like the business agenda of ‘cut my taxes and cut regulation’ has contributed to the economic disaster,” said Andy Tarsy at an event held by PBLN last month and covered by the Boston Globe. Tarsy cofounded PBLN and is now its executive director. “There’s a lack of vision of what’s good for the country, as opposed to narrow business interests,” he said. “Business has to be more creative and think about the long term.”