Renewable energy advocates and stakeholders have found the current environment in Washington, DC, to be quite challenging, as it is increasingly complicated by the Trump administration’s moves to bolster fossil fuel technologies, while simultaneously attempting to diminish the benefits of cleaner alternatives.
Action such as the formal effort to kill the Clean Power Plan (CPP), proposed rules that essentially subsidize coal and nuclear power generation, moves to reduce biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard, and a call for an end to tax credits benefiting renewable energy development are just some of the salvoes endured by clean energy advocates in recent weeks.
It’s little wonder that those who recognize the need for clean energy – particularly America’s corporate interests – have turned to states to provide the policy foresight that can help them meet goals of reducing their carbon footprint and improving their bottom line – all while keeping the country on track toward a clean energy future armed with 21st-century energy technologies, tools and strategies.
It came as little surprise this week when EPA head Scott Pruitt, announced the Trump administration’s formal plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama administration’s marquee policy for regulating carbon emissions – principally those generated by power plants – and a potential accelerant of renewable energy development.
The move to end the CPP has been in the works for months. But adding to the disappointment caused by EPA’s refusal to carry out its responsibilities to protect public health with measures like those included in the CPP is the uncertainty as to when the administration may tender a replacement plan. Legal experts say a new plan may not go into effect until after the 2020 elections, an unfortunate delay in a time of growing global greenhouse emissions that scientists say progressively alter our climate, creating increasingly volatile weather patterns that result in widespread damage, loss of life and severe challenges to agricultural production.
Another concerning development from late last month occurred when Energy Secretary Rick Perry requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider issuing new rules to ensure that power generating facilities with a 90-day fuel supply – including nuclear and coal – be compensated for the reliability they add to the grid, in addition to the power they supply.
Such an order would essentially subsidize money-losing coal and nuclear facilities at the expense of ratepayers. A DOE study requested by Perry earlier this year found that the ongoing decline in these so-called “baseload” energy sources was attributable primarily to less expensive natural gas, flatlining energy demand, significant increases in net generation capacity since 2002, and the dramatic drop in the price of installing renewables like wind and solar, which has led to wider implementation of wind turbines and solar panels across the country.
Any doubt that the administration is targeting renewables in its effort to shore up other lagging power generation technologies is quickly removed by Pruitt’s comments to a Kentucky Farm Bureau gathering, where he said he would do away with wind production tax credits and solar investment tax credits, which are being phased out over the next five years or sooner.
Acknowledging that the credits are a policy decision that can only be made by Congress, Pruitt said he would let wind and solar “stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources.” (Renewable energy advocates are quick to point out that the credits actually generate billions of dollars in added revenue and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a growing industry sector – much of it in rural America.)
As bleak as appearances may be in Washington, states are continuing to take a leadership role through Renewable Portfolio Standards, tax credits, innovative financing tools, resiliency planning and other policy mechanisms that are helping to continue to push the domestic growth of clean energy.
Much of that policy drive comes from corporate America’s significant pursuit of clean energy as businesses and industries of all sizes set their own clean energy targets, building their own renewable power sources or entering into long-term Power Purchase Agreements from clean energy providers. Some say that environmental goals motivate their choices, but they all also recognize that renewable energy is good for the bottom line. Businesses understand that wind and solar are more than just cost competitive with fossil fuels – and will continue to be – but that they also offer price stability and sustainability certainty.
Even if federal agencies are ignoring marketplace reality, states, corporations and renewable energy advocates across all geographical and political spectrums, including 25x’25, will continue to pursue clean energy policies and goals that can create jobs, boost our economy, enhance our national security and make our world a better place to live.