News / USA

US Considers European Approach to Energy Independence

Feed-in tariff program relies on funding from electricity users, not taxpayers

Proposed solar installation and wind turbine at Gas Works Park in Seattle.
Proposed solar installation and wind turbine at Gas Works Park in Seattle.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

National and state governments around the world have been trying out various incentives and subsidies to promote clean renewable energy but the global economic slowdown has hurt the ability of many governments to dole out public funds for that purpose.

Yet the desire to achieve energy independence and cut greenhouse pollution remains strong.

A green energy incentive that relies not on tax money, but rather on ratepayer funds was pioneered in continental Europe, and is now getting a hard look in many countries around the world, including the United States.

Less than four percent of the nation's electricity demand is met with renewable sources like solar and wind power.
Less than four percent of the nation's electricity demand is met with renewable sources like solar and wind power.

Most of the electricity Americans use is produced by coal, natural gas, or nuclear generation. Some mountainous regions benefit from hydropower. Less than four percent of the nation's electricity demand is met with renewable sources like solar and wind power.

Hundreds of electric utility companies are trying to burnish their green credentials by offering customers the option of supporting alternative energy. A 'green power' program in the Seattle area regularly invites customers to pay $4 to $10 extra per month to switch to clean energy.

Most of the money would help pay for the utility's new wind farms. But nationwide, the percentage of customers who've signed up for these voluntary programs is tiny.

Click to Listen:

Download/Play Audio File


Washington State Representative John McCoy says renewable energy needs a bigger push. "We're looking to get off fossil fuel generation, whatever it might be, and we need to bring these newer technologies in. We need to move on."

McCoy believes the best way to get more solar, wind and tidal power on the grid is to offer renewable energy generators a government guarantee.

Ensuring a market for a new type of producer

Effectively, the state would say if you build it, the local utility must buy the juice. And not only that, the utility must agree to a long-term contract that covers power generation costs, plus a decent profit.

Solar developer Stanley Florek of Seattle says the fixed, premium purchase price gives alternative energy suppliers assurance they'll recover the high costs they pay upfront. "As a result," he points out, "you may be foolish not to have a solar system or wind farm in your neighborhood, because that property is sitting there not making money for your neighborhood."

This incentive policy is most commonly called a feed-in tariff. Variations of it have passed recently in Vermont, California, and Oregon. A Congressman from the state of Washington is preparing national legislation.

Christian Maass, Hamburg's Secretary for the Environment, says the feed-in program has worked well.
Christian Maass, Hamburg's Secretary for the Environment, says the feed-in program has worked well.

Supporters are trying to duplicate successes in Europe, especially Germany. Christian Maass, Hamburg's Secretary for the Environment, looks back over 10 years, and says the program has worked well.

"Since we have introduced the feed-in tariff, we have seen a strong increase in the production of power from wind, from biomass and from solar power. Also, we have seen hundreds of thousands of jobs growing in Germany."

However, he acknowledges that Germans are paying a price for their renewable energy. Solar power, in particular, is much more expensive than other sources of electricity.

"But if you look at the price and if you look at the benefit and you compare that, it's worth it. So I can only recommend from the German experience that it's good, that it's something to copy from."

Utilities are allowed pass on their higher energy acquisition costs to consumers. And Hamburg resident Patrick Ulmer says Germans routinely complain about high energy prices. "Basically, what the consumer notices is that prices had gone up. That obviously is not a good thing. But I don't think that many people made the link to feed-in tariffs because of solar energy."

Economic storm clouds disrupt solar power

European incentive programs threatened to spin out of control when solar module prices dropped - decreasing producers' costs - while the rates utilities had to pay to buy that power stayed high. Investors flooded in to lock in high profits.

Last summer, Spain abruptly capped how many systems could sign up. In Germany this winter, the governing Christian Democrats proposed steep rate cuts to try to balance the market. Shares in solar energy companies promptly plummeted worldwide.

In the U.S., electric utilities lead the opposition to copying this rate structure, and to mandating purchases of alternative power. Dave Warren of the Washington Public Utility District Association notes electricity demand fell during the recession and may stay down, thanks to conservation. And then, "we would be forced to buy power that we don't need and idle existing generation or have hydro[power] that is very cost effective -- very cheap, actually -- being replaced by very expensive power." He adds it is ratepayers, not taxpayers, who shoulder the cost of this renewable energy incentive, and any rate increases are "tough to swallow," especially now.

In Germany, the above market price paid to wind and solar farm owners adds about two to five Euros to the average household's monthly power bill. Dave Warren offered a wide range for how much a similar policy might cost American consumers. He estimates rates in his home state could go up by as little as 0.03 percent to as much as 15 percent, depending on how many customers a utility company has to spread the costs across.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs