WASHINGTON – Americans can expect more years of fossil fuel dependence before they can rely on renewable energy resources,industry representatives said at a conference this week.
Natural gas is the clear choice to partner with the wind and solar industries as the two continue to grow. That's because it is produced domestically and has a much lower carbon output compared to coal or other fossil fuels,said American Wind Energy Association President Denise Bode.
Bode was one of about 100 people representing a variety of energy producers attending the 6th Annual State of the Energy Industry meeting. She was on a panel of energy experts who spoke at the conference.
She said her association has begun to work with the natural gas industry “as a team” to move toward cleaner energy.
“I think we can provide a growing percentage of home-grown electricity,” she said.
Bode said wind is not viable without subsidies or rules requiring that a certain amount of energy must come from renewable sources. Wind still makes sense because costs are stable,compared to those for fossil fuels. She said natural gas is a necessity now because it will take time for a regulatory structure for the renewable industry to be put into place.
Renewable energy industries need new and upgraded transmission lines and face challenges getting power to individual customers,said Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch.
“Electricity law is mostly created at the state level,and for solar to be a relevant part of the energy mix,we need to have uniform net metering and interconnection standards across the country,” he said.
Resch said solar is competitive in only three states – Hawaii,parts of California and in New York during peak power generation – even if they weren't getting subsidies. But to create jobs and scale up the industry,it needs more subsidies.
Resch said money from the stimulus package did not kick in until September,but the industry did grow by 40 percent last year.
In the next six years,manufacturing will grow and prices will come down,representing scale of manufacturing and competition,he said. He predicted a 10 percent to 15 percent price decline this year.
Too much help for renewable resources or coal would hurt the natural gas industry,said Natural Gas Supply Association President Skip Horvath.
“If the competitive market is pushed on one side by coal subsidies … and on the other side pulled by an overly rigged renewable portfolio standard that has more renewables in a competitive market,then the group that loses out in the middle is natural gas,” he said.
Representatives from the natural gas,coal,wind and solar industries agreed that to achieve the 83 percent decrease in carbon emissions by 2050 outlined in last year's stimulus package,national regulations,which could include a carbon tax,are necessary.
A compromise would need to include offshore drilling and nuclear power for Republicans as well as cost containment measures to make it acceptable to moderate Democrats,said Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn.
He said companies need one set of regulations,not separate federal and state rules.
“The business community will not go for double jeopardy,” he said. “Where they say,OK there's a law,but the EPA can do whatever they want,or the states can do whatever they want. You have to know the rules and have one kind of program.”
Energy legislation may not pass this year due to the government's focus on health care,the weak economy,the elections and the country's wide political divide,Kuhn said.
“Even if a bill is not going to pass,you build up momentum and get policies in there that serve as a basis for moving forward in the future,” he said.