Delay of Clean Power Plan Should Not Deter Renewable Energy Advocacy

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this week blocking further implementation by the Obama administration of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) pending full resolution of the legal challenges it faces is being received with major disappointment by renewable energy advocates nationwide.

Even though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has set an early hearing date of June 2 in a lawsuit filed by more than two dozen states, coal and mining companies, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, by the time the case makes its way through the appellate court and then on to the Supreme Court, it may be late 2017 before a final decision on the plan is reached.

Still, it’s important to remember that the Supreme Court’s decision this week does not overturn the plan, which has built in some considerable time – until 2018 ‑ for states to issue their compliance plans. Also, the initial emission reduction goals established by state plans will not have to be met until 2022.

So, in terms of having a policy tool that addresses climate change by offering a major boost to renewable energy development in the United States, the delay is unfortunate. But it is far from being a death blow to ongoing efforts to forge a path to clean energy.

The latest developments underscore what renewable energy and energy efficiency stakeholders have understood well, especially over the last decade: the path to a 25x’25, clean energy future is hardly a straight one and is not without its hurdles. But those stakeholders continue to see progress in renewable energy development over the past decade, in spite of those hurdles – enough to know that this country will not go backwards in its pursuit of a low-carbon energy future.

It’s important that those supporting renewable energy not fall victim to some sort of “silver bullet” syndrome, under which the Clean Power Plan is the only tool in the shed that can be used to boost new development. The delay in the CPP should be seen simply as an opportunity for stakeholders to renew focus on actions being taken on other fronts and better clarify the contributions their clean energy technologies can make to not only cleaner air, but to the economy and to energy security.

For instance, efforts are continuing in state capitols across the country to strengthen policies that embrace no- and low-carbon technologies like wind, solar and biomass as major elements in states’ energy portfolios. Yes, there have been some efforts to weaken or even repeal state renewable energy requirements. But those efforts have mostly been rejected, and, instead, states are bolstering their clean energy standards.

Late last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the State Department of Public Service to design a clean energy standard that ensures 50 percent of electricity in the state comes from renewable energy resources by 2030. New York follows California, where the legislature last year also boosted the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), from 33 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030. Hawaii adopted an ambitious 100-percent RPS by 2045 and Vermont will pursue 75 percent by 2032. Meanwhile, in Oregon, the state’s two major utilities have agreed to back a bill that would phase out power generation by coal by 2030, and set an RPS of 50 percent by 2040.

It’s also a good time to remind policy makers of the tools rural America has to offer in the move to a clean energy future, including the capacity for producing the nation’s biofuel supply, land for wind and solar developments and a ready workforce. Rural America is also providing a wide element of the leadership in the push for clean energy by farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who understand, in turn, the economic benefits that renewable energy gives them in energy cost stability, new revenue streams and job growth.

A shift in electric power generation in this country is well underway, moving from fossil fuels like coal and oil to cleaner resources like the wind, sun, geothermal, hydro and bioenergy. Businesses, including industry giants such as General Mills, Mars Inc., Nestle, Staples, Unilever and VF Corporation, have collectively said “clean energy solutions are cost effective and innovative ways to drive investment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Increasingly, businesses rely on renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions to cut costs and improve corporation performance.”

Regardless of how the courts ultimately rule on the CPP, it bears repeating that the road to a 25x’25 clean energy future is not without its bumps. Renewable energy champions must stay on point and use the growing momentum toward a clean energy future in this country to bring home the message to policy makers that promoting renewable energy development is smart, it’s economically beneficial and it promotes energy security, all while improving the air we breathe.

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