With the Democratic and Republican conventions behind us and the presidential campaign seriously underway, the job now before us as renewable energy advocates is to continue to advocate for the 25x’25 goal and the enabling polices needed to achieve, and in fact, exceed it.
As we reported in our Weekly REsource in April, the progress being made toward the goal is undeniable, demonstrated by data provided by DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing the rise in net electrical generation from utility-scale renewable energy sources from about 13.2 percent of total U.S. output in 2014 to 14.3 percent at the end of last year.
That renewable electricity output should get an even bigger boost with the passage late last year of long-term extensions to various production and investment tax credits, mechanisms that are expected to significantly expand the future development and implementation of wind and solar power in particular.
While electricity makes up the largest portion of U.S. energy output, some 28 percent comes from the transportation sector, where the production and use of biofuels continues to trend higher. That uptick comes despite policy uncertainty stemming from EPA delays in setting biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard and their use of waivers to avoid following congressionally-established blending level mandates.
Industry data show year-over-year increases in biofuel production and consumption. The amount of U.S. ethanol (14.81 billion gallons) and biodiesel (1.26 billion gallons) produced in 2015 reflects a longstanding trend upward, coming in above the combined 15.51 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel produced in 2014. That growth is expected to continue, given the wider availability of higher ethanol blends, like E15. Greater ethanol use, especially E85, is spurred by the nearly 18 million flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road today.
Giving further evidence of renewable energy growth is EIA’s report issued this week that shows the electricity generated from clean, renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal will rise to at least 23 percent in 2025.
However, the EIA and industry analysts agree that this number is likely to be overly conservative. The agency tends to assume that renewable energy development will drop off once tax credits begin to phase out in 2020 – an approach analysts say ignores the dynamic nature of the market where the price of wind, solar and other renewable technologies is falling dramatically.
So what are the prospects for policies that can sustain this momentum driving renewable energy development in the years ahead? Much of that remains to be seen as voters will head to the polls in November to elect their next president, a new House of Representatives and a third of the Senate – along with an assortment of state legislators and governors.
While positions on renewable energy differ between the candidates and parties, it is clear that energy production and utilization will be a major theme in the forthcoming election. However, regardless of political ideology it is critical for politicians to realize the benefits that can be derived from the whole suite of renewable energy sources available.
It will also be critical for voters to sort through the political platforms to understand where each candidate stands, and urge their party to embrace the momentum that we have seen for renewable energy. America’s farms, forests, and other working lands remain a considerable landscape that is widely untapped for its renewable energy potential. Farmers and foresters across America as well as our rural communities stand to realize considerable economic and environmental benefits from the development of renewable energy in their fields, forests and pastures.
The upcoming 2016 elections are critical to this country’s energy future. We urge all renewable energy advocates to call on candidates at all levels to affirm their support for a 25x’25 future, and embrace policy positions that will accelerate its attainment. The 25x’25 Vision is in sight and the forward progress this nation is making toward becoming the world’s leading clean energy economy must be sustained.