The D.C. Council’s Committee on Government Operations, led by Committee Chairman and Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie, held a public hearing today on a bill to change an existing D.C. law that impacts the quantity and the type of renewable energy sold in the city.
The bill would exclude from the city’s renewable portfolio standard black liquor, a chemical-laden waste product created from paper manufacture, and other biomass material used in old, inefficient biomass-energy facilities.
A renewable portfolio standard requires suppliers of electricity to rely on qualifying renewable energy sources for a percentage, defined by the RPS, of the electricity they sell. Biomass, an organic material, can create energy by burning it or through chemical process.
The hearing pitted a coalition of environmental groups, such as the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the D.C. Environmental Network, and their supporters against the American Forest & Paper Association and several union allies.
Chairman McDuffie asked numerous speakers questions to elicit basic facts, such as the impact of the bill on electricity costs, carbon emissions and city jobs, as both sides relied on their own version of the facts.
“[I[f this bill becomes law…it will raise electricity costs for D.C. residents and businesses,” said Paul Noe, the Vice President of Public Policy at the American Forest & Paper Association.
But Mike Tidwell, the Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network countered, “There will be no impact on ratepayers.”
Similar differences existed in testimony about the impact of black liquor on carbon emissions, with each side relying on data, published articles, and EPA statements.
Both sides seemed to agree that action on the bill would not cause either the loss or creation of D.C. jobs, although there was much testimony on the potential loss of jobs in surrounding states.
“The bill is job neutral for D.C.,” said Joslyn Williams, President of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, who opposed the bill.
As to electric ratepayer costs and carbon-emission issues, D.C. Public Service Commission Chairman Betty Ann Kane, and D.C. Department of Environment Director Keith Anderson weighed in.
Kane explained that renewable energy credits are bought and sold in a regional wholesale market for electricity and related products. “Any change in RECs [renewable energy credits] has a potential cost impact,” she said. “REC prices are set by market-based supply and demand so there is no guarantee that past REC prices will continue.”
On carbon emissions, Director Anderson said, “black liquor impacts air quality and hurts hazardous emissions.”
But Anderson also said that the Department of Environment is waiting for a final Environmental Protection Agency study on the carbon impact of black liquor as a biomass energy source before the Department takes a final position on the proposed bill. Anderson said he expects the EPA to release the study in February or March 2014.
Twenty-nine states plus D.C. have mandatory renewable portfolio standards, according to a data base of state renewables operated by a division of N.C. State University and hosted on the Department of Energy’s website.
The bill addressed at today’s hearing, Bill 20-0418, the “Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Amendment Act of 2013,” was introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Mary M. Cheh on July 10, 2013. A similar proposal before the Maryland General Assembly failed to advance out of a House Committee this past April.
According to a spokesperson for Councilmember McDuffie, the Committee is in a fact-finding mode and won’t decide for several weeks whether to move the bill to committee mark-up. That would represent the next step if it were to advance forward. To the extent the Committee does advance the bill, it received several suggested amendments from Public Service Commission Chairman Kane.