Moving Towards Phase II

I found this article from RenewableEnergyAccess.com interesting in light of yesterday’s one lonely post on a new framework for rethinking sustainable development. It appears that the American Council on Renewable Energy is also engaged in thinking about how to reframe our conception of the role of renewable energy in the US in order move these technologies forward:

The American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) and over 35 Supporting Organizations are calling for new national goals and a public policy framework called “Phase II” for Renewable Energy in America. Decades of research and development have provided the technologies to move renewables foward. It’s time to move on to Phase II: a major deployment phase for these technologies….

In December 2004, ACORE and the Phase II Supporting Organizations convened a policy forum entitled “The Call for Phase II” to ask the renewable energy community: has Phase I been successful, and are we ready for a Phase II? The answer, from all of the reports we gathered on technology and market readiness, was a resounding “yes.” The Phase II coalition then turned to the question, what would a Phase II look like? Or, more specifically: “What are the national policies that will result in renewable energy contributing 20% – 30% – 40% of national energy supply by 2020 – 2030 – 2040?”

This presented a new policy challenge, breaking away from decades of thinking about developing new technologies, overcoming institutional barriers to commercialization, and creating initial demand to drive down costs through volume manufacturing.

But how to break out of the mindset we have been in for so long? How to change our lexicon from “a tax credit to help spur initial demand so that we can drive down the cost curve” to something like “fair tax treatment and policies in proportion to the public benefits that are generated by renewable energy?”

A series of “regional roundtable meetings” produced a set of questions meant to spur thinking in different directions. Among the questions raised:

– Would the U.S. be a higher or lower taxed society if renewable energy increases? The answer appears to be “lower” and should be analyzed carefully as a new rationale for support.

– How would electric utility decision makers see renewable energy options differently if all utilities were required to offer customers 5-,10-, and 20- year fixed rates?

– How much more would it cost Detroit to produce all vehicles with flex fuel capability? Some say that the answer is “zero”. This would allow every American to purchase biofuels wherever available.

– What are the current government incentives for consumers to purchase more efficient cars and/or biofuels? Some would say “none” because the current incentives are directed at the suppliers, not the consumers. How could we have missed this, for all these years?

– What would happen if we had to get a building permit not to put a solar system on our new houses? This is raises very basic questions about why we have permitting to begin with.

– What is the “natural geography” of strategies that will put renewable energy into widespread use in America – national, multi-state regional, state, sub-state regional, or local? The consensus seems to be that the natural boundaries for renewable energy markets are regional, not matching the lines of political jurisdictions. The implication is that there is a need for collaboration between levels of government.

While ACORE certainly has a vested interest in getting such questions on the table, one might argue that the rest of us do, too. Questions like these will be addressed at the “Renewable Energy in America: the Policies for Phase II” conference, which begins tomorrow in Washington, DC.

UPDATE: Almost immediately after posting this, I found a response from James Howard Kunstler. He’s not so convinced by ACORE’s thinking, and believes the organization itself represents the same big corporate mindset on energy development that we’ve seen in the oil and gas industry.

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