Search Penny Hill Press

Monday, April 4, 2011

Clean Energy Standard: Design Elements, State Baseline Compliance and Policy Considerations

Phillip Brown
Analyst in Energy Policy

During his State of the Union speech on January 25, 2011, President Obama announced an energy goal for the country: “By 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.” The White House, on February 3, 2011, released a Clean Energy Standard (CES) framework focused on U.S. electricity generation. The framework describes the fundamental goals and objectives of such a policy to include doubling clean electricity, sustaining and creating jobs, and driving clean energy innovation.

Congress, if it chooses to take up CES legislation, will likely sort through and evaluate a number of policy options that might be considered during the formulation of a federal Clean Energy Standard policy. Understanding previous CES proposals, the Administration’s CES policy framework, state-level baseline CES compliance, and policy considerations might assist a CES debate during the 112th Congress. These areas are the focus of this report.

CES and related concepts have been debated for more than a decade and several Clean/Renewable Energy Standard proposals were offered during the 111th Congress, although none became law. The scope of this report includes a comparative analysis of four proposals of the 111th Congress: S. 20, Clean Energy Standard Act of 2010; S. 3464, Practical Energy and Climate Plan Act of 2010; S. 3813, Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010; and a substitute amendment offered for H.R. 2454, American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This analysis, which illustrates commonality and key differences among the legislative proposals, includes an assessment of each bill based on a uniform set of design elements. While the proposals considered generally agree on the definition of “renewable energy” (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.), they differ on certain policy aspects including (1) base quantities of electricity, (2) target/goal for the standard, and (3) alternative compliance payments, among others.

The Administration’s proposal states that 40% of delivered electricity is generated from “clean energy” sources today and 80% should be generated from clean energy sources by 2035. Clean energy sources are defined to include (1) renewable energy, (2) nuclear power, and (3) partial credits for clean coal and efficient natural gas. However, the amount of partial credits received by clean coal and efficient natural gas generation is not explicitly defined.

CRS analysis of 2009 electricity generation data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) also suggested that 40% of electricity generated could considered clean energy if renewable energy, nuclear power, and 50% of electricity generated from natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants are classified as clean energy. Further analysis of EIA data assessed the amount of clean energy generation in each state. This work revealed differences among the states regarding existing clean energy generation, with some states currently generating more than 80% of electricity from such clean energy sources and other states generating less than 5%.

Finally, the Clean Energy Standard debate involves several policy design options that Congress might consider, including (1) Should the policy credit existing and/or incremental clean energy generation? (2) What should be the value of alternative compliance payments? (3) Should utility companies of a certain size be exempt? (4) Should preference be given to renewable energy generation? and (5) Which generation sources would qualify as clean energy? These, and other, policy options are presented and discussed in this report.

Date of Report: March 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R41720
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.