Third Way today called for a clean energy mandate on utilities with nuclear, natural gas and some coal as options.
The Democratic think tank, which advances moderate political policies, issued a 13-page report detailing why it believes such a mandate is needed and how it should be structured. Third Way's proposal comes as some in Congress are talking about advancing a clean energy standard, or CES, because it potentially could pass a divided Congress.
A clean energy standard could help the country move from reliance on fossil fuels to energy sources that emit less carbon dioxide, Third Way said.
"A clean energy standard would provide the certainty businesses have asked for and incorporate national energy goals into policy," the report says. "It would build upon successful renewable energy standards enacted by 33 states, while providing the flexibility states and utilities need to make long term energy decisions that reflect geographic concerns."
A clean energy standard would require utilities to generate a portion of power from less-emitting sources. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said he plans to offer a bill that would include renewable energy, nuclear and coal with carbon sequestered as options for meeting the mandate. Graham's office said today that he has not set a time frame for introducing the bill.
But there's likely to be disagreement over what should be considered clean energy. Trade group America's Natural Gas Alliance has said it would like natural gas to be considered if there is a CES bill, and some environmental groups oppose any CES that includes nuclear, coal and natural gas. There are also questions about how any incentives in a CES would be funded when many Republicans have said they won't back spending money on new programs.
"It's going to be an uphill battle to do things that cost money without offsetting savings," said Ken Green, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
But Green said CES still has a fair chance of moving forward.
"I wouldn't be surprised if a CES happens in this Congress," Green said. "The Republicans have a fetish for nuclear power. If you put nuclear power into almost anything," they'll support it, he said.
But at the same time, he cautioned, "Republicans with nuclear power are a little bit like Charlie Brown with Lucy's football." Democrats offer it to Republicans, he said, but "it never happens" because it can't receive permits.
Third Way advocates a CES that in addition to traditional renewables would allow utilities to pick from "a percentage of natural gas when replacing existing coal capacity, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, waste to energy, biomass, energy efficiency and nuclear power."
The group leaves it to lawmakers to set the amount of the mandate, but also suggests that a requirement of 25 percent by 2025, increasing to 50 percent by 2050, would be effective and feasible.
A CES should give states flexibility in reaching clean energy generation targets, Third Way said. The group noted that half of South Carolina's electricity comes from nuclear power plants, while Louisiana depends on natural gas.
"To meet these state needs with renewables would require transmitting electricity long distances, from renewable-rich states to renewable-poor states," Third Way's report says. "This would not provide local jobs or energy security for every region. Moreover our transmission infrastructure simply is not up to the task of managing intermittent energy generation and moving large quantities of energy across the country to regions that need clean power."
A CES is needed now because the country's energy needs are growing, the report says, and coal-fired power will be used to meet that need unless other sources are encouraged. As well, it says, clean energy needs to be developed across the country. And China and the European Union could dominate the clean energy markets of the future, the report says.
The report rejects relying solely on wind, solar and other renewable power sources as the sole answer to addressing climate change.
"In the age of global warming when the focus is on moving away from high-emitting sources and toward cleaner, low-emitting energy solutions, the distinction between 'renewable' and 'clean' is one we simply cannot afford," Third Way said.