North American Clean Energy Pact Latest Manifestation of 25x'25 Partner Efforts

Editor’s note: This version of the blog has been updated to correct the status of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in California, which is due to be shut down by 2025.

The North American Climate, Energy and Environment Partnership was announced this week in Ottawa by the leaders of the three signatory nations, marking a huge commitment to renewable energy. This groundbreaking pact can be attributed in large part to the efforts over the past decade of the nearly 1,000 organizations, trade groups, businesses and other advocates that have endorsed the 25x’25 vision.

Announced Wednesday by President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the agreement sets a North American goal of achieving 50-percent clean, no-carbon power generation by 2025. The regional goal can be achieved, the three leaders say, through actions undertaken by each country individually in accordance with their own conditions, specific legal frameworks and clean energy national goals.

While the pact does include nuclear power, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies, much of the development – and investment – will focus on renewable energy, including wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal. Another route to the goal is a reduction in demand energy efficiency – the option of first choice under the 25x’25 vision.

To support the goal of 50 percent clean power generation, the White House says, the three countries plan a range of initiatives, including cutting power waste by aligning ten appliance efficiency standards or test procedures by 2019; 5,000 megawatts of cross-border transmission projects to facilitate deployment of clean power; a joint study of the opportunities and impacts of adding more renewables to the electric grid on a continental basis; and the conversion of government operations to 100 percent clean energy by 2025.

While the agreement focuses on no-carbon power sources, we believe that efforts by the three nations to further expand clean power development should also embrace low-carbon biopower solution sets and reap the multiple benefits that these technologies that utilize sustainably harvested biomass feedstocks can provide. In many cases, biopower serves as a baseload resource and sources materials locally in support of rural economies. Also, the power generated from sustainable biomass is essentially carbon-neutral and can yield climate benefits according to our own EPA. We must not focus so narrowly on non-emitting power sources that we disallow the energy, environmental and climate benefits that bioenergy provides.

The three nations collectively average 37 percent of their power production coming from renewables and nuclear energy. Canada has the largest share coming from clean energy sources – more than 80 percent, including some 60 percent from hydropower. Mexico has the steepest challenge, currently averaging about 20 percent of its power production from clean sources, most of that from hydropower. The United States gets about a third of its power from non-carbon sources, including 20 percent from nuclear and 13 percent from renewables.

But the U.S. numbers for nuclear and renewable are trending in opposite directions. California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced last week its plans to close the state’s last operating nuclear power plant by 2025, the latest among several shutdowns taking place (two in Illinois are scheduled to be closed over the next two years) or already having occurred across the country (four between 2012 and 2014).

While some no-carbon advocates propose changes in plant design to smaller, more modular operations, which could help resuscitate nuclear energy as a clean and sustainable power source, analysts say safety issues will always plague the sector, given the collective memory of Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima. Nuclear energy has also been taking a beating in costs compared to relatively cheap renewable energy and natural gas.

Non-carbon renewable energy continues to grow at an incredibly rapid rate. Sharply dropping production costs, federal tax credits and multiple state policies have resulted in a forecast from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a 25x’25 partner – that 14.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar power will be installed this year, nearly doubling last year’s record of 7.5 GW. Another 25x’25 partner, the American Wind Energy Association, says that increasing cost-competitiveness, pushed in part by government policies, brought more wind power online (8.6 GW) in the United States than any other source of new electricity in 2015, putting it on track to quadruple in size by 2030 and generate 20 percent of the country’s electricity.

The trilateral agreement announced Wednesday is just the latest manifestation of the effort put in by 25x’25 partners at the federal, state and local levels to encourage policy makers to take the actions that are making a clean energy future an inevitability. Our partners have consistently reminded our elected leaders and regulators of the huge economic and health benefits that come with renewable energy, especially for rural America, and of the negative impacts if action is not taken quickly.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that a failure to quickly develop clean energy sources, resulting in a delay in reduced carbon emissions, could lead to the subsequent rise in global temperatures above the 2 degrees Celsius threshold called for by the Paris agreement, and could cost the world at least $160 billion annually in lost output. Furthermore, a better developed clean energy sector, an increase in energy efficiency and the development of new transmission facilities will increase jobs from the current level of 700,000 today to more than a million by 2025.

We applaud our renewable energy champions whose work on behalf of the 25x’25 vision has resulted in a groundbreaking agreement reached by the United States and its neighbors this week. But we also urge all clean energy advocates to use the agreement as motivation to spark renewed efforts in reaching out and convincing policy makers of the absolute need to move forward now.

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