On February 10, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee received testimony on a majority draft of a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) proposal. The proposal would require electricity providers to obtain a minimum percentage of power from renewable energy and energy efficiency. The current draft mandates that states generate at least 20 percent of power from renewable sources by 2021, with increases in energy efficiency allowed to account for up to one quarter of that percentage.
"The reasons to pass such a provision are as compelling as ever, if not more so," said Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), including reducing America's dependence on fossil fuels, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and creating a green economy with hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) argued states are in a better position than the federal government to adopt RESs. (According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency , 28 states currently have mandatory Renewable Electricity Standards – also known as Renewable Portfolio Standards – and five have renewable energy goals.) Senator Murkowski and committee members on both sides of the aisle were concerned some states would not be able to achieve the minimum percentage or would face drastically higher energy costs.
One major issue raised at the hearing was the definition of ‘renewable biomass’ that will be used in federal RES legislation. Scott Jones, Executive Vice President of the Forest Landowners Association, argued the RES proposal must have a very broad definition of renewable biomass and warned the committee to avoid borrowing the definition from the Renewable Fuel Standard in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which excludes woody biomass feedstocks from over 90 percent of forests lands. The value of establishing a definition that allows more sources of woody biomass to qualify for an RES was underscored by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who noted that the Southeast has an abundant supply of woody biomass that could be used as a renewable source of energy.
EESI has worked extensively to educate Congress on the limitations of the current definition of renewable biomass in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). If all sustainably harvested woody biomass were eligible to count toward the RFS and potential RES, there would be several environmental and economic benefits including:
- Forest management activities such as stand improvement, habitat restoration, pest management and hazardous (wildfire) fuels reduction would become more economically viable because of a potential market for brush, small-diameter trees and other low-value material.
- Struggling forest communities would have new economic opportunities.
- The United States could displace a significant portion of its fossil fuel use with an abundant, low-carbon, renewable feedstock.
EESI testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in February 2008 and the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research in July 2008 on this issue, and published factsheets on the impacts of the definition on private forests and federal forests .