April 2019 | Point of View

Reality lagging well behind political aspirations

Reality lagging well behind political aspirations

The 14-page congressional resolution (House Resolution 109, sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Senate Resolution 59, sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA) presents a framework for achieving greater economic and social equality, and creating a hightech clean energy industry capable of significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Critics of the Green New Deal fabricate falsehoods and present misleading interpretations of the intent and means of achieving its ambitious goals. Yet, the ideas and principles underpinning the Green New Deal are not new. Many learned people in the energy, environmental, and clean energy industries have been discussing these ideas and principles for years, and many states have plans in place with funding available, supporting many of the Green New Deal initiatives.

Nonetheless, the plans and funding provided are not sufficient to change the trajectory we are on, guaranteeing GHG reduction goals will not be met.

California has a legislated goal of achieving 50 percent zero-emission electricity production by 2030, and 100 percent by 2045. Hawaii has a legislative mandate to become completely energy self-sustaining using 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2045 with a nearer-term goal of 70 percent by 2030. Illinois is considering legislation to mandate a clean energy goal of 100 percent by 2050, as is Minnesota. New York has targeted 2040 as the year in-state electricity production is generated 100 percent by renewable energy sources, with 70 percent by 2030.

In all, some 23 states and the District of Columbia have announced statewide GHG reduction targets for the electric sector, most aspiring to 100 percent renewable electricity generation and zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. These goals are aggressive, yet state and federal incentives and programs in place to achieve them, while ambitious, fall way short.

The Clean-Tech Challenge

US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts reported in the Annual Energy Outlook 2019 paint a dire picture for the ability of renewable energy resources and energy efficiency to reach penetration levels necessary to significantly reduce GHG emissions, and meet reduction goals established by states. EIA models and projects short- and long-term energy production and use in the United States based on current technology and costs, and with minimal expectations for innovation, change in economic conditions, or supply and demand for electricity.

Projections take into consideration existing legislation, tax code, and energy and environmental trends, without predicting future legislative mandates or policy actions. Natural gas is projected to remain the backbone of electricity generation through 2050, although the fastest-growing electric generation resources are renewable. For clean energy and GHG reduction goals to be met, significantly more investment by federal, state, and local governments; industry; and consumers is needed.

States, utilities, energy services, and technology providers have been pursuing clean energy initiatives for decades. Utility industry restructuring in many parts of the country opened the electricity and natural gas industries to competition in the late 1990s, driven largely by federal energy policy.

The electricity and natural gas industries today have experienced low-to-moderate growth in demand, due to significant improvements in energy efficiency and demand management. New demand management technologies, residential and commercial building codes, appliance standards, fuel economy standards for vehicles, and other creative policy approaches have significantly reduced fossil energy use and GHG emissions from the trajectory they would have otherwise been on. Moreover, job creation in clean-tech industries has skyrocketed, and costs of clean energy technologies like energy efficiency and demand response, solar and wind power, fuel cells, geothermal, tidal, and biofuels have decreased significantly. In regions of the country with ample clean-tech resources, cost is marginally less than that of conventional electricity generation. This is a seismic shift in the economics of meeting electricity needs.

Given the increasing penetration of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, GHG emissions in the transportation sector are leveling off and/or trending downward per vehicle mile traveled. Innovation in electricity generation and transportation were and continue to be driven by public policy—including tax incentives, government and utility grants and subsidies, and innovations by entrepreneurs—finding ways to continually decrease costs of production. With the expected growth of electrification in the transportation sector, electricity demand will rise, requiring more electricity generation, and, ultimately, an increase in new generation supply.

The challenge remains. Whether policymakers accept the science tying a changing climate to GHG emissions or not, the fact that investments in clean energy and transportation technologies are contributing to increased investment in US manufacturing and job growth, and a commensurate reduction in energy use, energy bills, and GHG emissions, is undisputed.

Federal and state governments have subsidized fossil energy exploration, mining, and use of nuclear power for decades, and continue to do so today. Likewise, federal and state governments continue to subsidize clean-tech industries. The economics of competitive markets with subsidies included are driving greater customer interest in, and use of, clean-tech resources. Public sentiment is favoring lower-cost, cleaner alternatives to conventional energy and transportation technologies.

This article originally appeared in Natural Gas & Electricity Journal.

DeCotis, Paul A. (April 2019). “Reality Lagging Well Behind Political Aspirations.” Natural Gas & Electricity 35/9, ©2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., a Wiley company.

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