Comment: Is renewable energy part of the ‘all of the above’ strategy?

Source: By former Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.), contributor, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, March 3, 2015

For several years now in a row, Congress has wrestled with its support of public policies supportive of the renewable energy industry. What happens to the production tax credit for wind? Should we extend the solar investment tax credit? Does the Renewable Fuel Standard need repeal? Did the Solyndra debacle permanently endanger any bipartisan support for renewables? Should we expand the eligibility of Master Limited Partnerships to renewable energy projects? The debate on these policies is sucking almost all of the oxygen out of the room for those members who are focusing their careers on advancing our country’s ability to produce all types of energy in this country.

Just a few years back, we touted “all of the above” as our energy strategy. America’s ability to pull natural gas and crude oil from the ground and from underneath our ocean floors is now at unprecedented levels. Fracking and horizontal drilling have resulted in price declines worldwide for fossil fuels. Who doesn’t smile when you fill up the car at under $2 per gallon? However, the laws of economics and the chapters of history are clear — the prices of crude oil and natural gas will bounce back and they should be expected to increase dramatically. Solar, wind, geothermal power and biomass-based diesel should be viewed as reasonable hedges against those inevitable higher prices.

While many in my political party reasonably question the philosophical need for federal subsidies or mandates to promote renewable energy, it is also clear that Republican opposition to renewables is not unanimous. In fact, Republicans have supported renewables that are readily available in their state or district — proving that, once again, all politics is local. In the Midwest, the support for renewable fuels is clearly bipartisan. Gov. Terry Brandstad (R) of Iowa is one of their most vocal champions. As far as solar power is concerned, the industry’s support is from coast to coast, including Govs. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) and Brian Sandoval (R-Nev.) and former Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.). Plus, wind power farms can be found in 39 states and that only happens when political support exists amongst mayors, city councils, state legislatures and governors. Republican support for renewables is not deep across my party’s spectrum, but the support that does exist — in gubernatorial mansions and in the halls of Congress — is enduring. Republican support for renewable energy exists and thrives where the plants and equipment are visible, business is succeeding and where the industry stays politically active.Until there is a bipartisan bill placed on the president’s desk to overhaul the tax code, Congress should recognize that these American businesses provide American jobs that produce cleaner power and fuel that is used in American cars, trucks and homes. Congress should pass the Production Tax Credit (PTC) extension, extend the solar investment and biodiesel tax credits, and give the renewable energy industry the legal and regulatory certainty that it deserves. Even though cost-competitiveness issues still exist with some segments of the renewables industry, incentives are important to drive capital formation, investment and job growth.

The key to a successful energy strategy in our country is not to rely completely and totally on fossil fuels, because markets do change and prices do fluctuate. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Senate Energy Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are working on energy legislation this year and renewables will be impacted by those measures. And if there is to be a bipartisan agreement that takes full advantage of our natural gas and oil resources in this country, renewables need to be an important part of that deal. The coalition of support is too strong to ignore. Although “all of the above,” as a slogan, was mostly created to bolster the domestic production of oil and gas, “all” meant then what it means today: A diversified energy policy that harnesses all that we have to offer.

Bono is a former congresswoman who represented California’s Inland Empire and Desert Region in the House of Representatives from 1998 to 2013. She is currently principal at FaegreBD Consulting in Washington.