A Clean Energy Summit was held in Washington Monday, convened by Senator Harry Reid and John Podesta, co-chair of the President’s transition team.   From Reason:

The stated goal of the summit was to discuss the policies needed to construct a national smart grid to support new renewable energy generation and transmission, as well as how to best wean America off of foreign oil. In reality, the summit was a made-for-media event designed to show the breadth of the coalition pushing for a comprehensive federal green energy policy. Other participants included AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern, Wal-Mart Chairman Lee Scott, American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode, National Rural Electrification Cooperative Association CEO Glenn English, Sierra Club CEO Carl Pope, Owens Corning CEO Michael Thaman, Robert Kennedy from the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Electric Power CEO Michael Morris, and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President Fred Butler.

But just because the special interests are having fun doesn’t mean that they are all wrong—at least, not when it comes to bringing America’s national electric grid into the information age. This “most anesthetizing of issues,” as Wirth dubbed it, involves complex changes in regulatory procedures, new cost allocation formulas, and the setting of technical standards among power generators, transmission companies, and equipment manufacturers.

Senator Reed  will introduce a bill this week giving the Federal government a much larger part in the planning and location of transmission facilities.  Included in that bill is the requirement that utilities produce a specified percentage of their electricity by means of wind, solar, or geothermal sources.  Reportedly those percentages start at 4% by 2012 and end at 20% by 2039.

The “smart grid” will make it possible to greatly expand energy production from renewables, because it can handle the intermitent production from solar and wind power, something the current grid cannot do.

Some unanswered questions:

During a post-summit press conference, I tried unsuccessfully to ask Reid the following questions: If Congress and the Obama administration are going to set a price on carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants, why wouldn’t that be enough to encourage utilities, consumers, and innovators to develop and switch to low carbon renewable fuels? Why does Reid think we need his proposed panoply of tax credits and mandated renewable energy portfolio standards? More pointedly, why does Reid think that Congress knows just what the right mix of energy sources is? I would still like to know the answers to those questions.

I saw no mention of new nuclear power plants, a carbon-free energy source.   Wouldn’t that be the way to go if Congress is really interested in clean energy, instead of the proposed bureaucratic and economic nightmare of cap and trade, and the increasing Federal intrusion into states’ business that this “smart grid” will entail?

England is in the midst of implementing a similar energy policy, with higher percentage requirements.  How is that working out there?  Back in June 2008, Christopher Booker reported:

…This is the unavoidable fact that wind speeds around the British Isles are constantly varying, often providing no power at all – so that the electricity actually generated by these turbines represents only between a quarter and a third of their nominal ‘capacity’.

What this means is that conventional coal, gas, oil or nuclear-fired power stations must be on permanent stand-by to provide all the electricity the turbines are not able to produce when the wind is not blowing.

Earlier this month, Paul Golby, the chief executive of the German-owned E.ON (one of our largest electricity companies), came up with the shattering admission that the back-up needed for our new wind turbines would amount to 90 per cent of their capacity.

This alone would mean building scores more gas and coal-fired power plants, to guarantee continuous supply during those times when the wind is not blowing and therefore the turbines are not generating any electricity.

Sounds like a great big waste of money.  This will be an issue for America, too, if Senator Reid’s bill is passed, as I’m sure it will be.