The new Jan./Feb. 2011 issue of the Electricity Journal is now available, and it contains the usual range of interesting things to consider.

Take, for instance, the article “Redefining Renewable Portfolio Standards: The Value of Installed Renewable Capacity.” The article observes, reasonably so, that some sources of renewable power can dependably generate power around the clock, while others are somewhat less dependable. And we can all agree that dependable power is somewhat more useful that less dependable power, other things being equal. But soon enough we depart this firm foundation and begin speculation on how we can rig power markets and renewable power policies to increase the role played by geothermal energy.

To which the appropriate response is: “Say what?”

It is as if the article does not realize that their are broader environmental goals at issue in renewable power policy. In fact, the only mention of the word “environment” in the article is in reference to “creat[ing] a suitable investment environment for developers” (p. 15; the article does mention greenhouse gases two times on p. 17).

By the end of the article the author is asserting that “States with geothermal resources should tailor their renewable portfolio targets to encourage geothermal development to the extent possible.” I guess I missed the benefit-cost analysis earlier in the paper, but when did anyone besides the geothermal power industry conclude it was in the public interest to encourage geothermal development “to the extent possible”? Actually, the author is a bit more generous, allowing that his ideas would equally apply to other dependable renewable resources like biomass and landfill gas.

We’d be better off if our environmental policy was more focused on solving environmental problems and less focused on boosting one segment of the power industry at the expense of other segments of the industry (and, ultimately, power consumers).