Clean Power Plan Offers Major Opportunities for Renewable Energy Growth

As proposed by the Obama administration this week, the Clean Power Plan will create new and significant opportunities for expanding the production of renewable energy across the country. And that, in turn, will help achieve the 25x’25 goal issued a decade ago.

States must submit their plans next year – or by 2018 if a two-year extension is requested – and must design and implement their plans that, together, will result in the nation reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants by 870 million tons annually, or 32 percent below 2005 levels, by 2030.

The reduction in carbon called for by the plan offers the nation the opportunity to move into the 21st century the way we meet our energy needs, further encouraging alternative energy sources that will boost our economy by creating new jobs and lowering our energy costs, enhance our energy security by continuing to lower our reliance on volatile fossil fuel supplies, and significantly improve our environment by reducing emissions that impact our air.

The plan does not come without disappointments, however. EPA’s failure to allow states to count soil carbon sequestration achieved through agricultural practices toward their respective targets eliminates one of the nearest-term, lowest-cost mechanisms for reducing carbon in our atmosphere. This is one of the components of the plan that hopefully will be revisited going forward.

There also is concern over the squeeze the Clean Power Plan will put on rural electric cooperatives, many of which rely heavily on coal-burning plants for their source of electricity. The 25x’25 Energy for Economic Growth initiative, is a collaboration formed with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to assist rural electric utilities in developing new business and financing models that can be deployed to expand and scale up the development of renewable energy projects that can offer a diversified, cleaner and in some cases cheaper supply of power for their members.

Another concern is that the final plan released this week did not include energy efficiency targets written into the proposal issued last year. The plan does however allow states to count gains in efficiency toward meeting their emission reduction goals – a concession welcomed by energy efficiency advocates.

Much uncertainty related to the plan remains, given that virtually all Republican candidates for president have said they will eliminate it, if elected. In a partisan vote, a Senate committee approved this week a bill offered by the two senators from coal-heavy West Virginia that would, among other things, delay implementation of the plan pending judicial review. And attorneys general from sixteen states have come together to call on the administration to delay the plan – a move seen as a precursor to legal action aimed at killing the plan.

But Clean Power Plan advocates say the momentum behind the regulatory scheme is just too great to reverse. Many of the states that strenuously objected to the plan when it was first proposed a year ago find themselves nearly in compliance. That includes Kentucky, home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called on states to reject the plan. Kentucky has five coal-burning plants about to convert to natural gas, putting the state on the brink of compliance very early on.

Despite its drawbacks, the plan makes renewable energy a primary building block and offers special incentives to boost community efforts to build renewables more quickly than the plan requires. As it is, EPA says, the nation uses three times more wind and 20 times more solar energy than it did in 2009, and the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.

Renewables are now a significant part of the nation’s balanced energy portfolio, improving grid reliability, reducing transmission losses and relieving grid congestion. The 25x’25 Alliance looks forward to helping our partners capitalize on any renewable energy opportunities that this new policy will provide.

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