June 01, 2012

The Law of Clean Energy: Efficiency and Renewables

JoAnne L. Dunec

Michael B. Gerrard, ed., The Law of Clean Energy: Efficiency and Renewables, ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources, 2011.

Clean energy is a growing economic concern, yet the laws governing energy efficiency and renewable energy are fragmented and often at odds in their goals and implementation. In the Introduction and Overview, Michael Gerrard explains:

To the extent that generalities are possible, it is that energy laws—for the most part those administered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the state public utility commissions—aim primarily to keep the price of energy low and to assure reliable supplies, and do so with heavy reliance on large-scale, centralized facilities. The environmental laws—those administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal resource agencies, and by the state environmental and resource agencies—attempt to preserve precious elements of the natural world, to protect public health, and to reduce despoliation and pollution, often to the disadvantage of energy production and use. The energy laws and environmental laws are thus often in tension, with different origins, objectives, mechanisms, and implementing agencies.

The Law of Clean Energy, written by 35 authors, is intended as a guide for navigating through such laws. The book commences with an Introduction and Overview which provides a “factual predicate” for understanding the ensuing chapters. Energy conservation and efficiency are distinguished as follows:

Energy conservation reduces the unnecessary use of energy services; it largely involves changes in behavior. Energy efficiency involves doing more with less by increasing the ratio of energy output to energy input; it largely involves technology. If I turn out the lights when I leave a room, that’s energy conservation; if I replace an incandescent bulb with a fluorescent bulb, that’s energy efficiency.

Impediments to both energy efficiency and renewables are identified in the Introduction and Overview, together with legal techniques to improve efficiency and increase renewables. For example, according to Gerrard, “Many states have begun requiring their regulated utilities to include in their portfolios a certain amount of renewable energy . . . often called renewable portfolio standards (RPSs).” He continues, “[m]ore recent variations on RPSs involve energy efficiency resource standards, under which utilities must spend certain amounts of money on energy efficiency measures or achieve a certain amount of demand reduction.” The Introduction and Overview concludes with a discussion of the role of efficiency and renewables in combating climate change. In conclusion, Gerrard notes:

this book attempts to demonstrate an abundance of legal techniques are available at the federal, state and municipal levels that cumulatively could accomplish a great deal in cutting energy use, increasing the share of energy that is provided by low-carbon sources, lowering U.S. reliance on foreign sources of fuel, and reducing GHG [(greenhouse gas)] emissions and the other adverse environmental impacts of energy production.

Part I of The Law of Clean Energy addresses laws governing efficiency, renewables, and sifting through four chapters covering federal energy efficiency and conservation laws, state and municipal energy efficiency laws, renewable mandates and goals, and facility siting and permitting.

Financing, pricing, and taxation are addressed in Part II, commencing with a discussion of government purchasing of efficient products and renewable energy, and following with chapters covering taxation, government nontax incentives for clean energy, the sale of electricity, and financing structures and transactions.

Energy use sectors are explored in Part III through chapters addressing conservation of energy in agriculture and forestry; appliances, lighting, computers, data centers, and computer servers; buildings; motor vehicles and transportation; and distributed generation.

Part IV covers renewable energy sources, including wind; solar; geothermal resources; biofuels; hydropower; tides, waves, and ocean currents; and energy transmission and storage.

Finally, an Appendix is included, which provides a fifty-state survey of state actions on clean energy, categorized as financial incentives, rules and regulations, or policies, plans, and governmental affiliations.

JoAnne L. Dunec