News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

GOP Rep Pushes to Decentralize the Grid

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, right poses at solar installation with Charles Cawley, Maryland Farm Service Agency State Executive Director and Jack Tarburton, Maryland Rural Development State Director | Photo: USDA/Flickr/Creative Commons License

When you look at the renewable energy issue in the context of national politics, things pretty much shake out along party lines. Democrats tend to be for renewable energy no matter what, and Republicans against -- unless those Republicans are from districts where the wind power industry is strong, in which case they'll make that one exception.

But it doesn't always work out like that. Earlier this month, a very conservative Republican member of the House of Representatives introduced a resolution that, if passed, would put the House on record as supporting a radical increase in the amount of power American communities derive from distributed power sources.

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The bill, H.Res. 762, was introduced by Roscoe Bartlett, who represents Maryland's rural 6th Congressional District. It is what is known as a "Sense of Congress resolution," which doesn't carry the full force of law but just puts Congress on record as having an opinion. Despite the lack of legal teeth, a Sense of Congress resolution can be taken very seriously by the Federal Government: the entire Solar PEIS process has its roots in a Sense of Congress resolution passed in 2005 in which Congress opined that more renewable energy on public lands would be a good thing.

Bartlett's resolution, which is co-sponsored by two Democrats and a fellow Republican, cites many threats to our fragile power transmission grid ranging from attack via Electromagnetic Pulse weapons to solar storms to cyber attacks, then points out:

these high-impact, low-frequency events would cause regional or nationwide collapse of critical infrastructure that could last months or longer, it is incumbent on the Federal Government to reassess its civilian civil defense strategies to include local governments and individual citizens ... it is in the interest of national security and local community viability that every community and institution begin to reestablish its ability to generate at least 20 percent of its own power for its critical infrastructure and services in order to provide its citizens with food and water.

The resolution concludes by exhorting local communities to develop distributed generation that accounts for 20% of their energy consumption, and encourages state and federal agencies to develop policies that would make that development easier.

It's a reasonable enough resolution, something you might expect to come out of a middle-of-the-road wonkish environmental group. Bartlett, however, is a self-proclaimed Tea Party Republican, described as "far-right" by GovTrack. On his website, Bartlett describes himself thusly:

"I'm not interested in politics. I'm interested in my country. I am a conservative who wants to help restore the limited federal government envisioned and established in the Constitution by our nation's founders."

But Bartlett is also an engineer and scientist, and has been advocating lessening the nation's reliance on fossil fuels for decades. He's even issued recent endorsement of a green energy conference.

H.Res 762 doesn't specifically mention renewable energy sources, so it's possible that a community might comply with this Sense of Congress resolution by means of distributed diesel generators or some other non-renewable means. But the resolution does mention the recent Hoover-Brookings joint report on distributed power, which specifically mentions solar and wind as emerging technologies for distributed energy generation, as well as the need for grid storage and the possible benefits of a carbon tax -- sure signs of the influence of former Reagan Defense Secretary George Shultz, another renewable Republican.

The resolution was introduced August 2 and referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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