Financial, Economic Crises Invigorate Opposition to Renewables, Climate Change Legislation

The financial crisis and recession, along with the results of the latest elections, have invigorated opposition to renewable energy, clean tech and climate change legislation despite broad popular support and the increasingly evident costs of inaction.

It may have looked like government support for renewable energy, clean technology and climate change legislation was a done deal with the election of President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden. It's increasingly clear that that's far from the case, whether at the national, state or local level.

Financial, Economic Crises Invigorate Opposition to Renewables, Climate Change Legislation

While the Obama administration has moved quickly to reverse course precedent and effect a turnaround of federal government energy policy, the financial and economic crises have provided fodder for opponents and an increasingly invigorated "loyal" opposition.

The debate continues to rage on at all levels of government as critics and opponents decry the additional costs they say imposing renewable energy mandates and a cap-and-trade, cap-and-dividend or other form of market price on carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions would have on the economy.

Now that oil and gas prices have fallen so far from their over-inflated heights, investment banks have collapsed under the weight of bad mortgages and derviatives contracts they created and the economy has tanked, there's a real risk that all the momentum and capital built up behind renewable energy, clean tech and climate change mitigation and adaptation may prove fleeting. This despite the enormous risks and potential costs associated with not addressing them aggressively or the very real near- and long-term benefits of doing so.

Elusive Consensus

Washington state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle didn't like the climate change bill submitted to them by the Dept. of Ecology yesterday. They rejected it by a 29-19 vote and sent it back to the Dept. for two more years of study, according to a news report in The Columbian.

On the east coast, Rhode Island's governor and lawmakers are considering Deepwater Wind's proposal to build a $1.5 billion offshore wind farm. Deepwater's chief operating officer Chris Wissemann said the plan to erect 106 turbines off the Rhode Island coast would put the state in the "pole position" in the nascent offshore wind industry.

Nascent is a bit generous. There's practically nothing going on in terms of real, solid on the ground and in the works offshore wind initiatives, much less wave, tidal and thermal ocean renewables, in the US despite extensive coastlines and the vast potential energy contained in the oceans.

Climate Change Debate in Washington State

Having reviewed the Washington State Department of Ecology's proposed climate change bill, Democratic supporters of such an initiative asserted that it wasn't aggressive enough. Republicans countered that it went too far and would hurt the state's economy by discouraging businesses from setting up shop in the state because they would effectively have to pay a carbon tax. Moderates on both sides of the aisle were unable to bridge the divide.

Washington state residents in 2006 approved a renewable power standard requiring utilities to source 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020. The state senate earlier in the week decided to revise that legislation as well.

The revised bill boosts the renewable energy targets but also expands qualifying renewable energy sources to included small-scale hydropower, some forms of biomass energy, efficiency gains at large-scale hydropower projects and energy conservation. Renewable power purchases by state utilities from anywhere on the Western power grid would also qualify, according to The Columbian's report.

"Senators who voted for the bill 'rolled back a citizens' initiative that will ensure the development of new renewables in Washington state," Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters, was quoted as saying. "They did it on behalf of utilities and big businesses that claimed somehow this was going to hurt their bottom line."

Instances of the same political debate and divide taking place in Washington state government are occurring around the country, as well as in the nation's capitol, often despite broad voter support.

Offshore Wind in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, Deepwater Wind's COO told Governor Carcieri and the state's Economic Policy Council that the company's proposed offshore wind project would create as many as 1,200 jobs in its design and construction phase and potentially thousands more in turbine manufacture, according to a March 12 Providence Journal news report.

Several hurdles have to be cleared in order for the project to move forward, however, he noted, securing a long-term power purchase agreement or agreements prominent among them. Passing a renewable power standard would all but assure this but the Rhode Island government has not done so.

Such a bill was proposed and passed in the state's General Assembly last year but was vetoed by the Governor for several reasons, the main one being that it didn't require Rhode Island utility National Grid to purchase renewable power from Rhode Island suppliers. An amended version is now being considered.

Obtaining state and federal permits is another hurdle. Rhode Island's Coastal Management Council is putting together an ocean zoning plan that's expected to be completed next year.

Federal ocean zoning and permitting regulations were expected as far back as 2005 but have yet to be issued. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has said that he will move aggressively to get this done and issue plans to support development of offshore wind farms and renewable ocean energy resources off the Atlantic coast.

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