In the beginning of this year, the D.C. Council approved the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Act of 2004. Subject to Congressional review, the law became effective in April.
The law is intended to promote electric power generated from renewable resources, that is, "green" power from hydroelectric dams and windmills, from solar panels and photovoltaic cells or from plants that burn biomass (like yard waste), municipal waste or landfill gas.
The law establishes a D.C. renewable portfolio standard, which requires an increasing percentage of retail electric power sold in D.C. after 2006 to be generated from renewable resources. The RPS, in effect, is a quota on green power.
In 2003, just 3.3 percent of the retail electric power sold in D.C. by PEPCO was generated from renewable resources. Under the new D.C. green power quota, in 2007, 1.5 percent of the power will come from solar, wind and biomass and 2.5 percent will come from hydroelectric and municipal waste. By 2022, 11 percent will come from solar, wind and biomass and .386 percent will come from solar alone.
If PEPCO falls short of these quotas, the RPS will impose a fine of 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour of shortfall in power from solar, wind and biomass and 1 cent per kilowatt hour of shortfall in power from hydroelectric and municipal waste. Fines will be deposited into a Renewable Energy Development Fund, from which D.C. will provide grants and loans for the development of solar power.
D.C. joins 17 other states that have enacted an RPS. Each RPS varies from state to state and often reflects the unique environmental attributes of the state. Some states out West have placed a premium on solar power. Some states in the Northeast have placed a premium on hydroelectric power.
The abundance in this town of windbags and blowhards suggests that D.C. is ideally suited for wind power. There is no need just yet, however, for PEPCO to build windmills on the Mall.
PEPCO belongs to PJM Interconnection Inc., a regional transmission organization that serves Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland as well as Delaware and D.C. Last year, PJM expanded to include Virginia and West Virginia.
PJM operates the transmission lines in these states. In addition, PJM is a power pool. Electric utilities in these states generate power within or purchase power for the pool. The utilities in turn sell power from the pool.
PEPCO owns no generation itself. Thus PEPCO purchases power for the pool at wholesale and, in turn, sells power from the pool at retail. The precise electrons that PEPCO purchases for the pool, however, need not be the precise electrons that PEPCO sells from the pool as long as the amount of power purchased at wholesale equals the amount of power sold at retail.
PJM ensures that the power generated within or purchased for the power pool constantly is equal to the power sold from the pool. PJM penalizes "short" utilities that sell more power than they generate or purchase and balances those shortfalls with power from "long" utilities.
In principle, PEPCO could purchase 5,000 MW of power in New Jersey at wholesale to sell 5,000 MW in D.C. at retail. Thus PEPCO could purchase 500 MW of green power in New Jersey to meet the D.C. green power quota.
In short, PEPCO need not build windmills on the Mall, or even hydroelectric dams on the Potomac, to meet the new D.C. green power quota. PEPCO can meet the quotas through purchases of green power generated anywhere within or purchased anywhere for PJM.
No one wants a power plant – not even a green power plant – in his own backyard. Just ask the folks up on Cape Cod and Nantucket, who for years have battled a proposal to build a windmill farm in the Nantucket Sound. The farm would consist of 170 windmills. Each windmill would be 260 feet high, but the blades on the windmills would reach a height of 425 feet.
By comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet high.
Washingtonians, however, need not fret about a D.C. skyline marred with 425-foot windmills. Because it belongs to the PJM power pool, PEPCO should be able to meet the new D.C. green power quota without green power plants located right in the D.C. area.
James W. Moeller is a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Brunenkant & Cross.
James W. Moeller