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One size does not fit all

By By Sen. Richard Shelby, Guest columnist
In light of our current economic challenges, it is crucial that Congress and the President work together to promote economic growth. Maximizing energy production across our country is critical to that effort. We must, however, ensure that we examine all opportunities to stabilize energy prices, expand access to new and innovative technology, and reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources as we develop alternatives. Otherwise, we risk exacerbating rather than mitigating our economic difficulties.
The proposed, and inaptly named, Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) would require power producers to create a specified percentage of their electricity from a limited list of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Regrettably, Alabama and other southeastern states lack access to the renewable resources that RES requires. Our state’s disadvantage in this regard is not by virtue of choice, but of nature - not due to a lack of resourcefulness, but of certain natural resources. Quite simply, the RES proposal fails to recognize how nature works. No matter how hard the federal government tries, it cannot make the sun shine or the wind blow.
Alabama’s natural inability to meet the government-imposed mandates of RES would carry significant economic consequences for our state. States that fail to meet these requirements must pay substantial fines to the federal government, or purchase and ship power from other states that produce an excess from these sources. As a result, new production fees would be passed on to Alabama’s businesses and consumers. And as electricity costs increase for our local businesses, they will become less competitive with their overseas counterparts, prompting further job losses. Moreover, many of the RES sources of electricity are intermittent and unreliable, posing problems well beyond the added costs. Wind and solar energy are by definition dependent on the whims of Mother Nature. While experts can determine the overall viability of wind or solar power in a specific area, no one can assure access to the power source on an hourly or even daily basis.
As with renewable fuels, the only reason that renewable electricity needs to be mandated in the first place is because these alternatives are far too expensive to compete in the market otherwise. It makes little sense that RES scarcely acknowledges the safe, emission-free, reliable, and cost-effective methods the Southeast already uses to produce energy. For example, hydropower plays a major role in providing cheap, peak power production in the sweltering heat of the Alabama summer. For some unknown reason, RES largely ignores hydropower as a clean and renewable fuel. In addition, the Tennessee Valley Authority recently restarted Unit One at Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant in North Alabama, which can produce 1155 megawatts of low-cost, emission-free base-load power for Alabama and other TVA states. The benefits of nuclear power, too, are ignored by this proposal.
In effect, the RES proposal would force costlier, unreliable energy mandates on certain segments of the public when other viable options exist. Alabama and many others in the Southeast that are not blessed with wind and solar energy would bear the brunt of the cost of this proposal. Ultimately, massive amounts of wealth would be transferred from the Southeast to the renewable rich portions of the country or the federal government. Punishing some Americans for the forces of nature, or lack thereof, is unfair and economically unreasonable even under favorable economic circumstances. Unnecessarily doing so during our current economic conditions is plainly irresponsible.
A clean, safe, independent energy future is something we all desire, and something we as a nation must relentlessly pursue. But one size does not fit all when it comes to addressing our nation’s energy needs. The RES proposal blatantly ignores the realities and geographic nature of our nation’s natural resources. I believe the best approach to achieve this end is to employ every method currently at our disposal as we develop new ones. We must continue to explore all economically viable energy sources for tomorrow. We should not, however, do so by further increasing the cost of energy today.