An Open Letter To Selected Senators On Their Support For The Renewable Portfolio Standard

An Open Letter to Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), James Jeffords (I-VT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patrick Leahy(D-VT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME).


Dear Senators:

We are writing to inquire about your positions on the proposed offshore wind “farm” off Cape Cod and the Renewable Portfolio Standard in the Senate’s version of the energy bill.

On March 14, 2002, you voted for Senate Amendment 3017 to the Senate version of H.R.4, which would establish a first-ever national electricity Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This version of the RPS would have required privately-owned electric utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.  The amendment was defeated despite your support, but the Senate-passed bill still contains a 10 percent RPS by 2020.

Although much more costly than conventional sources, renewable power may look attractive in the Northeastern States.  Your States are against coal-fired power plants, want to shut down nuclear plants, have blocked new natural gas pipelines, and strongly oppose offshore oil drilling.  The question arises, how is increasing demand for energy in the Northeast going to be met?

One possible alternative is wind power.  The proposed Cape Wind project would consist of 170 wind turbines, each 426 feet high (the U.S. Capitol is 300 feet high), spread over 26 square miles of one of the world’s premier fishing, boating, wildlife, and scenically beautiful areas. Since it would produce only about the same amount of power as a single small-to-mid-sized (250 Megawatt) natural gas plant (or about 1 percent of New England’s annual consumption), clearly many more wind farms along the New England coast and around Long Island will be needed to meet surging demand.

Since you support forcing increased production of renewable energy across the nation through the Renewable Portfolio Standard, we assume that you also support the Cape Wind project and other similar proposals in your States.  The fact that many local citizens oppose the Cape Wind project because it will destroy their views and other amenities should not weaken your support.  If renewable energy is going to be required by federal mandate, then people on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, as in South Dakota or Iowa or Minnesota, are just going to have to get used to it.  Merely living in a very nice spot with high real estate values should not exempt anyone from sharing the renewable burden.  Indeed, advocates of Environmental Justice would argue that since poor people will be paying a much larger share of their incomes in higher electricity prices because of the RPS than will the wealthy, wind farms, biomass generation facilities, and rights of way for transmission lines should be sited in wealthy neighborhoods.

On the other hand, if you oppose or plan to oppose the Cape Wind project because of local opposition, then it seems to us that consistency demands that you also oppose the Renewable Portfolio Standard.  If wind farms should not be forced on the unwilling residents of one particular locality because you happen to represent it, then they should not be forced on anyone anywhere in the country.

We hope this way of putting the issue will cause you to re-think your support of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which we think is a regressive and coercive policy.  If it does not, then we hope you will feel obliged to support the Cape Wind project.  By supporting the local implementation of a national policy, however misguided, your position will at least have the virtue of consistency.  In our view, continuing to support the RPS while opposing a wind farm off Cape Cod (and possible expansions along the New England coast) is an indefensible position.  But if that is your position, we think the public would be interested in hearing how you defend it.

We hope that you will be able to let us know where you stand on these two closely-related issues before the Congress completes its work on the energy bill.


Myron Ebell, Director of Global Warming Policy

Marlo Lewis, Jr., Senior Fellow