This year has brought with it mammoth challenges to the renewable energy sector, whether it is misguided EPA proposals to drastically cut biofuel blending requirements or moves in a number of state legislatures to weaken or kill state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). But as 2015 comes to a close, we see that, overall, the sector has withstood the harshest tests and the 25x’25 Alliance continues to strengthen in its pursuit of a new U.S. energy future that will be 25 percent renewable by the year 2025.
A quick review of how we got here since being founded in 2004 shows the Alliance has gained nearly 1000 agricultural, forestry, conservation, academic, business and civic partners in support of the 25x’25 goal. They have all helped secure not only national, state and local policy maker endorsements, but congressional approval of 25x’25 as a national energy goal in the Energy Independence and Security Act passed in December 2007.
Over the years, the Alliance has presented policy makers at all levels with a comprehensive action plan to achieve 25x’25 and developed and widely distributed sustainability principles for maintaining good soil, water and air quality and wildlife habitat in pursuit of that goal. A research, education and extension outreach renewable energy plan was developed. And the Alliance has brought together renewable energy champions through a number of national summits designed to promote collaboration toward achieving a 25’25 energy future.
The success of these efforts is underlined by the recent release of the 2014 Renewable Energy Data Book. Published annually by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the edition this year shows that U.S. renewable electricity grew to 15.5 percent of total installed capacity and 13.5 percent of total electricity generation. Total renewable energy consumption grew more than 60 percent over the past decade and in 2014 represented nearly 10 percent of all energy consumption, including transportation fuels.
25x’25’s principal mission is to educate stakeholders, policy makers and the public at large about the benefits of a clean energy future. Using this blog, op-eds, letters to the editor, position statements, comments and testimony directed to entities like EPA (on RFS blending rules, for example) and congressional committees, 25x’25 leaders and members underscore the boost clean energy provides to national, regional and local economies, particularly through the creation of new jobs; the enhancements to our national security by reducing our dependence on ‑ and need to militarily defend ‑ oil from overseas; and the improvements to our environment by offering cleaner, low- and no-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels like oil and coal.
Through renewable energy state alliances and leadership teams in 30 states formed over the years, the Alliance has been successful in spreading the benefits message, often through analysis and development of national energy and carbon policy recommendations. For example, the Alliance’s work in biomass GHG policy, including wood-to-energy forums on supply/demand, sustainability, carbon and policy issues that helped forge consensus on a wood-to-energy roadmap continues to play a large part today in efforts calling on government officials to amend policies so the carbon neutrality benefits of biomass are realized.
A constant throughout 25x’25’s existence has been our call for a long-term, comprehensive national energy policy. Congress has yet to construct that platform, but 25x’25 has worked on subordinate issues that facilitate the development of that national policy. This year, through the efforts of 25x’25 partners and other stakeholders, Congress approved long-term extensions to tax credits for wind and solar facilities, a move that is expected to accelerate what was already predicted to be a boom in clean energy investment and production.
Advancing the evidence recently gleaned from studies across the country showing the true emission-reducing benefits of ethanol, 25x’25 played a significant role in EPA’s decision last month to cut biofuel blending levels the agency proposed last May under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). However, the levels still remain below those called for in a bipartisan vote of Congress in 2007 to strengthen the RFS, so efforts will continue in 2016 to help stakeholders support their calls for full blending requirements set under the law.
Efforts by 25x’25 state renewable energy champions, including farm and energy groups, were successful this year in fending off dozens of anti-RPS measures introduced across the country. While two states succumbed to misinformation from so-called “free market” analysts and altered their standards, only one – West Virginia, where the statute essentially promoted “clean coal” – was repealed and 10 states actually strengthened their renewable energy requirements.
“Throughout 2015, 25x’25 worked with and supported key leaders in numerous states to counter misinformation and build support for: the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS); important tax incentives; Farm Bill Energy Title programs; Renewable Portfolio Standards; methane reduction initiatives; distributed generation mechanisms; energy efficiency programs; and, other state and federal policy measures important to the growth of renewable energy. Some of these achievements are visible in states like Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, and North Carolina. Through the leadership of partners at the state, we continue to make steady progress towards achieving the national 25x’25 goal.
Other Alliance activities in 2015 included helping agriculture, auto manufacturers and ethanol partners develop strategies and action plans to accelerate the transition of transportation fuels to higher octane/lower carbon blends for use in the North American light duty vehicle fleet; assisting the Energy for Economic Growth renewable energy initiative in aiding rural electric cooperatives interested in developing local renewable energy power projects; and producing a Tax Equity Finance/Business Model guide to assist rural electric cooperatives in raising local funds for local projects.
On the organizational front, 25x’25 last month transitioned into a special project of Solutions from the Land (SfL), an offshoot of 25x’25 conceived and led by a team of respected agriculture, forestry, conservation, academic and industry leaders who came together in 2009 to explore integrated land management solutions that can help meet food security, economic development, climate change and conservation of biodiversity goals.
We have previously admitted in this space that it is difficult to quantitatively measure how effective all of this work has been. However, we know the public discourse is more substantial and better suited to get results by our proactive communication of the benefits of 25x’25. Our work will continue in 2016, when we can expect fossil energy interests to continue ramp up their misinformation campaigns, even as renewable energy hit a tipping point toward inevitable acceptance and growth in 2015.
Let us take this opportunity sincerely thank the 25x’25 partners, without whose tireless efforts none of these accomplishments would have been possible.