The power shift in Congress will bring a “completely different world” in energy policy with an increased emphasis on climate change, renewable energy and energy effi ciency, according to participants at the fourth-annual Arizona Energy Summit sponsored by the Arizona Association of Industries Thursday at the Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix.
Marc Spitzer, a former member of the Arizona Corporation Commission who moved earlier this year to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said the Democratic-controlled Congress may implement a cap and trade system for the utilities and other industries to try to reduce the release of carbon dioxide — a gas widely believed to cause global warming.
Spitzer, a Republican, said he supports such a system, which he believes would be more effective in controlling emissions than a tax on carbon pollution.
Under such a system, a cap would be placed on CO² emissions, and utilities could buy credits to emit more from other companies that emit less. The market-based system also could cover other industries such as transportation,
Spitzer said he prefers that approach to a carbon tax because “it sets a level (of carbon emissions) that is appropriate and aligns the desired level of emissions with the economics of generating electricity.”
He said Congress is likely to place renewed emphasis on renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power. But on that issue he was less supportive, saying renewable energy programs should be left to the states, which have varying conditions and resources.
“A New Hampshire renewable plan would be different from one in Arizona,” he said. “One size doesn’t fi t all.”
Keith McCoy, vice president of energy policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, took a similar view, saying the Democratic Congress will probably push for greater use of renewables and higher fuel economy standards for vehicles. Also he said the lame-duck Republican Congress may try to pass legislation before the end of this year to encourage more off-shore oil and gas production.
He added, however, that additional energy and environmental legislation is not assured.
“The margins are going to be close in Senate, and in the House, too,” he said. “There will be a lot of pressure on the Democrats to keep everyone in line. They will need every last vote.”
Arizona’s energy picture is likely to be dominated in the coming years by an increased emphasis on renewable energy and expansion of infrastructure such as new electric lines and natural storage, said Kris Mayes, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Mayes, who was re-elected to a four-year term Tuesday, said the infrastructure expansion is necessary to keep pace with the state’s population growth, which is running at 12,000 new residents every month.
A plan approved by the commission Oct. 31 to require utilities to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2025 will diversify the state’s energy sources, she said.
“It begins to turn the energy ship away from the iceberg, which is our over-reliance on natural gas in Arizona,” she said.
She predicted the new program will generate the first major wind and geothermal projects in Arizona as well as thousands of solar installations on residential roofs. Mike Gleason, the only commissioner to vote against the renewable energy standard, said it will greatly increase energy costs and could reduce the reliability of western power supplies.