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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2008
Table of Contents
Ice Manliness Cometh
A Six-Dog-Power Engine
I (Heart) Snowshoeing
Skiing Yellowstone
Welcome Back to the World
Rotten Fish Tales
Big Fun in the Green Zone
Hey Mr. Green
Comfort Zone
Mixed Media
Last Words
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Sierra Magazine

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Lay of the Land

Playing Chicken | 2020 Vision | Low Bench Marks | WWatch | The Hidden Cost of Gas | Sprawl | Bold Strokes | Updates

2020 Vision

Looking to a future where every fifth watt is green

Renewable energy is like your beautiful and talented best friend who can’t get a date. Even though the cost of wind power has dropped by almost 90 percent over the past 20 years and solar technologies are used in 200,000 homes, renewables remain stuck at about 2 percent of the national energy stream. The oil-friendly Bush administration has done little to help; its original budget proposed slashing research and development for renewables by almost half. (The funds were later restored by Congress.) And efforts to entice environmentally conscious consumers to pay extra for "green power" have attracted only a small number of energy altruists.

Now there’s a way to break the logjam. Twelve states have already adopted "renewable portfolio standards," firm goals to increase their percentage of clean energy. Connecticut, for example, hopes to generate 15 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2013. Instead of just using a government diktat to get there, they’re employing a method even conservative Republicans love: the power of the marketplace.

Here’s how the renewable portfolio standards work. To meet the benchmarks, generators or retailers can either produce green power themselves or buy "credits" on the open market from others who have exceeded their goals. The system rewards innovators who figure out how to produce renewable energy cheaply, since they lower their own costs and have more to sell to the dinosaurs. In Texas, the goal of producing 400 megawatts of renewable energy by 2002 was met ahead of schedule and even doubled because of the competitive cost of wind power.

A modest renewable portfolio standard is included in the Democratic energy plan, which was still before Congress at the time of this writing. The provision would require that 10 percent of the nation’s electricity be produced by new renewable sources by 2020. Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords is proposing a more ambitious national goal—strongly supported by the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists—of 20 percent from renewables by that year. If Jefford’s 2020 plan were combined with energy-efficiency programs, says a study by the UCS, consumers could save hundreds of billions of dollars. Who knows, the plan could even appeal to President Bush—he is, after all, the one who signed the original renewable-standard legislation in Texas.

by Paul Rauber

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