The most striking element (from an energy perspective, certainly) of the State of the Union speech was President Barack Obama’s embrace of a clean energy standard. Recognizing that nuclear energy and natural gas can play significant roles in carbon emission reduction took the idea mainstream whereas it had previously been of interest mostly to energy wonks and policymakers.
The change has been noticed. Here’s the Washington Post:
The first is establishing a clean-energy standard expected to require that American utilities derive a certain amount of the electricity they provide from clean sources - the president mentioned 80 percent by 2035. Last year, Democrats opposed including nuclear energy or natural gas in that mix; Tuesday night, Mr. Obama included both.
The Post really isn’t right that Democrats opposed nuclear energy. There was no clean energy standard bill last year and Democrats were not opposed to including nuclear in such a mix. Both major bills in the House (Waxman-Markey) and the Senate (ACELA) in 2009 had nuclear up rates and/or new nuclear in their renewable portfolio standards.
Leaving that little problem aside, the Post editorial board is outlining the two elements it considers to be Obama’s successor idea to cap-and-trade. The second is increased funding for energy research, which you can read about at the link. What’s interesting here is the Post’s reaction to the inclusion of nuclear energy:
If America is to have such a standard, this is the right call. It widens the appeal of the policy to Republicans, but it's also sensible, since nuclear energy produces no greenhouse gases and natural gas produces about half the carbon emissions of coal. A well-designed policy would take advantage of that difference while giving less credit for natural gas than for truly renewable fuels.
Nuclear isn’t renewable energy, either, so this feels a little befuddled – likely, the writer meant that natural gas does produce carbon emissions and thus should not receive full credit.
The New York Times’ ClimateWire gets this about right:
Obama's clean energy outline favors sources like wind, solar and nuclear over "clean coal" and natural gas. Those fossil fuel energies, which emit some greenhouse gases, would receive "partial credits" under a clean energy standard that may allow utilities to trade energy credits earned by using low-carbon power sources, according to a White House fact sheet.
In any event, an important editorial voice for the inclusion of nuclear energy in a clean energy standard.
I was curious about that White House fact sheet and found that it is not an official fact sheet but something distributed to various opinion makers. I was able to get hold of it - and the nuclear take away mirrors what was said in the speech:
To give utilities the flexibility to generate clean energy wherever makes the most sense, all clean sources – including renewables, nuclear power, efficient natural gas, and coal with carbon capture and sequestration – would count toward the goal.
We’ll see: The Hill newspaper reports that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is considering bringing up a bill to support a clean energy standard and a brief bit in Reuters reports that Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is bending is warming up to the idea:
The chairman of the Senate's energy panel said on Monday he could support including nuclear power in the White House's clean energy standard for generating electricity as long as renewable energy benefited.
"If we can develop a workable clean energy standard that actually continues to provide an incentive for renewable energy projects to move forward, and provide an additional incentive for some of the other clean energy technologies, nuclear being one, I would like to see that happen," Senator Jeff Bingaman told reporters.
Bingaman is consequential here because he is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, which will be the first Senate committee to look at any bill that includes a clean energy standard. This will be an interesting story to follow in 2011.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) makes a point so forcefully, the camera blurs his hand a bit.