Dominating the news cycle this week is EPA’s announcement Monday of its proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by up to 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. Under the draft regulation, states and utilities would be allowed to meet the new standard using any or all of four options, including investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, shifting from coal to natural gas, and making power plant upgrades.
The proposal is already facing criticism, particularly from the coal industry. Regardless of how the plan is received, there is little doubt that it represents another step towards a new, lower-carbon economy that is evolving.
And it will create fresh opportunities for the renewable energy solutions advocated under the 25x’25 Vision. Many of those interests that make up the 25x’25 Alliance are quickly making it known that the renewable energy sector is well positioned to deliver near term, high quality and lower cost solutions to the challenges the EPA proposal aims to address.
In response to the EPA proposal, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, noted the significant role states will play in implement the measures needed to achieve the agency’s carbon-reduction goal. “As one of the biggest, fastest, and cheapest ways to reduce carbon pollution, wind energy can play a central role in state plans to achieve the reduction targets appropriately set by the EPA,” he said.
Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), called the announcement “a defining moment in American history,” given its impact on environmental policy. Resch said solar power “can be a real game-changer for regulators looking to meet the changing needs of their state,” also citing its reliability, cost competitiveness and scalability.
Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of Biomass Power Association, cited the Obama administration’s recognition of the role of biomass in a carbon emission reduction strategy. A recent National Climate Assessment issued by a federal inter-agency research group showed that energy from biogenic sources could displace up to 30 percent of the nation’s current U.S. fossil fuel consumption, including coal-burning power plants.
Of course, the administration must move beyond rhetorical steps when it comes to biomass. EPA now must take meaningful strides toward a final policy clearly recognizing biomass as a solution to reduce carbon emissions and finally complete its long awaited framework for measuring carbon from biomass energy. Until the framework is completed, biomass will only be a theoretical part of EPA’s policies. And unless it is completed by July when EPA’s deferral of biomass from the greenhouse gas (GHG) “Tailoring Rule” expires, biomass will be regulated the same as fossil fuels, reversing the momentum that’s been building behind a valuable and sustainable source of energy.
Many states already have policy platforms in place, including Renewable Portfolio Standards and other renewable energy targets. But stakeholders will need to get engaged with state agencies in charge of developing the plans to ensure that renewable energy is included as a critical part of the strategy. It’s important for stakeholders across the country to hold their respective states responsible for creating their own carbon emission reduction strategies that can – and should ‑ include renewable energy such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and bioenergy. They can maintain a regular dialogue with their state environmental agencies, public utility commissions, state energy offices and consumer advocacy offices. They should engage with utilities and advocates about compliance obligations and potential approaches, as well as analyze existing and planned clean energy programs, including energy efficiency measures and renewable energy requirements, and quantify the associated GHG emissions reduction impact. They can also engage in cross-border discussions that could lead to multi-state approaches.
While the EPA proposal released Monday focuses on power generation, the administration also must incorporate the benefits of biofuels as an emission reduction and climate change mitigation solution set. The latest research modeling conducted by a team led by Steffen Mueller, the principal economist with the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shows greenhouse gas emissions from corn-based ethanol currently run about 30 percent lower than a GHG baseline established by EPA for petroleum-based fuels. In a “well-to-wheels” analysis done last year by a research team at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, ethanol from corn was found to reduce lifecycle GHG emissions by an average of 34 percent compared to that produced by gasoline. If the administration follows through with another EPA proposal that would reduce biofuel blending requirements this year under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, the GHG reductions that biofuels can bring will not be realized.
The agriculture and forestry sectors will be major players in the new energy future and the reduced-carbon economy that it brings. Policies that promote renewable energy not only help stem greenhouse gas emissions, they can offer an economic boost to agriculture producers, forestland owners, rural communities and the nation as a whole.