In addition to the wind energy developments that Lynne noted a few days ago, in Texas the Public Utility Commission is working to implement changes to that state’s renewable energy law. The Houston Chronicle reports that a battle has broken out over how to count mandatory and voluntary purchases of renewable energy for purposes of determining whether utilities in the state are satisfying renewable energy requirements.
Some of the battle is over interpretation of Texas Senate Bill 20, passed last year, which increased requirements for purchase of renewable energy. I have no particular expertise in interpreting Texas law, so I won’t venture an opinion on what the law does or does not require. I do, however, have a passing familiarity with the requirements of logic, and it was a matter of logic that caught my eye while reading the Chronicle story. To wit, consider:
Reliant’s position could limit the development of renewable energy sources in Texas, forcing those who want to buy clean energy voluntarily to look outside the state, according to comments from the EPA filed with the PUC.
According to the story, Reliant Energy is of the view that voluntary and mandatory purchases should be added together to determine whether or not the state’s energy consumers are paying for enough renewable energy to meet state goals. This perspective makes some sense — if the requirement is for X amount of renewable energy to be produced in the state, and consumers voluntarily purchase amount Y, then the remaining “mandatory” purchase should be X – Y.
Opponents of this view assert that only mandatory purchases should be counted toward meeting state requirements. This position also makes some sense. After all, “voluntary” implies doing something beyond or other than what is required, right?
But, and here is where the logic thing comes in, I couldn’t see how Reliant’s position would force “those who want to buy clean energy voluntarily” to look outside the state. Other comments suggested that a policy of adding mandatory and voluntary purchases together would make it harder for consumers to voluntarily buy renewable energy. Neither of these positions seemed logical to me, at least at first.
After digging the EPA comments out of the Texas PUC’s website (PDF version), the first of the two positions began to make sense, at least in a certain kind of bureaucratic/regulatory fashion. As the EPA comments explain, if Texas begins to add mandatory and voluntary purchases together when determining whether renewable energy purchases in the state meet state requirements, then the voluntary purchases would no longer meet the requirements of the EPA’s Green Power Partnership. After all, EPA doesn’t want to grant you the added PR value, if any, of their green blessing, unless you are going above and beyond what is required. If Texas changes its rules, EPA explained in its comments, the 200 or so Texas organizations participating in the Green Power Partnership would have to buy renewable energy credits out of state to continue in the program. So, the rule change wouldn’t actually force people wanting to “buy clean energy voluntarily” to shop outside state, but they would have to shop outside the state to stay in the EPA program.
On the other hand, consumers wanting to buy renewable voluntarily but not caring about the EPA’s blessing would find it cheaper to get what they want under the “add ’em up” approach. Adding would reduce the amount of mandatory utility purchases, which should bring down the renewable premium paid. If that causes the EPA to withdraw its blessing from Texas renewable energy credits, and some Green Power Partners in Texas switch to supporting out-of-state renewables, so much the better for the voluntarist. After all, the cheaper it is for clean energy consumers to buy clean power, the more that resources will be left over to devote to recycling, or saving whales, or other goals.