Would a CES Raise Electricity Prices?
Climate Change Insights 2016-12-05
At the request of House Science and Technology Committee Chair Ralph Hall (R-TX), the Energy Information Administration (“EIA”) released a study this week on the potential impacts of a clean energy standard (“CES”). In January’s State of the Union address, President Obama called for Congress to pass legislation creating a CES, which would require that utilities generate 80% of their electricity from “clean” sources by 2035. “Clean” sources would include not only renewables but also nuclear, natural gas and coal-fired power plants employing carbon capture and sequestration technology.
The EIA report analyzed a potential CES based on several assumptions provided by Representative Hall. Under these assumptions, he report found that a CES would increase electricity bills $115 annually by 2025 and $211 by 2035. Additionally, a CES would reduce the gross domestic product by $127 billion from 2025 to 2035.
Undoubtedly, the report will be used by critics of a CES to argue that the costs of such a standard outweigh any environmental or health benefits. It should be noted that EIA’s report is based on a number of assumptions requested by Representative Hall that could contribute to the cost projections described above. Arguably most importantly, the report assumes that CES credits earned in one year cannot be banked, or used, in subsequent years, and that utilities would be prohibited from selling excess credits to other utilities. Advocates for allowing utilities to bank credits contend that it would reduce compliance costs by allowing utilities to save money by storing up credits during the early years when the clean energy generation requirements are still low. Additionally, credit trading could provide flexibility for utilities to comply with a CES.
While President Obama’s proposal didn’t specify as to whether credit banking and trading would be permitted, previous CES proposals from the last Congress did allow for credit banking and trading in some form. Notably, these proposals came from two Republican Senators – Lindsay Graham (SC) and Richard Lugar (IN). Moreover, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed legislation in 2009 that would have established a renewable energy standard with support of both the Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and the Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Under this legislation, utilities would have been permitted to bank and trade credits for renewable energy generation. Thus, Representative Hall’s assumption that trading of CES credits would be prohibited is dubious given previous bipartisan support for this concept in the debate over both a clean and renewable energy standard.
Senator Jeff Bingaman has requested another EIA analysis of a CES. This analysis is expected to be released next month and could be based on the assumption that utilities would be permitted to bank and trade CES credits. If this assumption is included in EIA’s analysis, then this analysis could provide a better outlook of the cost implications of a CES.