How to shape America’s clean energy future

Richard W. Caperton, Kate Gordon , Bracken Hendricks, and Daniel J. Weiss in a CAP repost.

The United States is at risk of being left in the dust in the clean energy race. But we can catch up. A Clean Energy Standard, or CES, which mandates that electric utilities generate a certain percentage of their power from clean energy sources, is an essential first step.

The global market for efficient and renewable energy technologies is expected to reach at least $2 trillion by the end of this decade. China and the European Union, and especially Germany, are clamoring to lead this clean energy race. These countries have set clear goals for renewable energy and energy efficiency use, along with carbon emission targets and investment strategies to promote clean technology development for export markets.

China, for instance, just released its 12th five-year plan, which mandates massive deployment of solar power in villages, a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas intensity, and a 16 percent reduction in the energy intensity of their economy. China also invests an estimated $12 billion per month into its clean tech sector.

With the right policy tools we have the innovative strength and drive to lead the clean energy future. To do so we must increase market demand for clean energy products, help move public and private financing into clean tech industries, and create the necessary infrastructure to move these new energy resources to market.

Countries abroad””and states within our own nation””that have adopted renewable or clean energy standards demonstrate that a CES is an incredibly powerful tool to boost domestic demand for clean energy products. This in turn provides certainty for those who invent, manufacture, and install those products, and helps to grow a strong national clean energy industry.

President Barack Obama put a CES proposal on the table in his most recent State of the Union address. He proposed that electric utilities be required to generate 80 percent of their power from clean sources””including renewable energy, energy efficiency, nuclear power, and natural gas”” by 2035. The Center for American Progress immediately offered a similar, but more detailed, proposal: one that is guaranteed to generate demand for renewable technologies such as wind and solar power by including a provision requiring that 35 percent of the CES be met by renewable technologies and energy efficiency.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is exploring proposals to craft a strong and effective CES. Committee chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) recently released a white paper seeking comment on a wide range of questions about how to design the most effective CES for the nation. The questions were designed to engage advocates and industry in the initial design of this policy and to show the committee’s strong interest in developing a standard that actually works for a variety of regions and industries across the nation.

The Center for American Progress was pleased to respond to the white paper and share our proposal for a CES designed to put the United States on a path toward clean energy leadership. Our responses were guided by proposals that we have developed over the previous year as well as principles that we feel are central to any clean energy policy development.

We believe that for a clean energy standard to be successful it must meet the following core principles:

  • Generate new, long-lasting jobs and grow the economy
  • Effectively spur development, production, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies
  • Account for regional diversity in resources and electricity markets
  • Be simple and transparent, and minimize costs
  • Provide a floor, not a ceiling, for clean energy, strengthening and building on existing state leadership

We commend the committee on its approach to the policy design process and are excited about the prospects for this policy moving forward. The Senate has the opportunity to develop a no-cost, high-impact policy tool that will jumpstart the transformation to a clean energy economy. We hope they will seize that opportunity and provide a key catalyst to move America toward climate stability, energy security, and sustainable economic growth.

Download CAP’s submission to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a Clean Energy Standard (pdf)

Read the white paper in your web browser

Richard W. Caperton, is a Senior Policy Analyst, Kate Gordon is Vice President for Energy Policy, and Bracken Hendricks, and Daniel J. Weiss are Senior Fellows at American Progress.

2 Responses to How to shape America’s clean energy future

  1. sault says:

    Wouldn’t Sen. Murkowski be an Independent instead of a Repub (R)? Just like Sen. Lieberman, she would be an Independent that caucuses with the party that kicked her out in the primary. Working with Sen. Bingaman on drafting CES legislation is great and probably shows what a lot of Republican lawmakers would like to do if they didn’t have to worry about all the crazies that showed up to their primaries.

    A CES + meaningful enforcement from the EPA would at least turn investment away from new coal power construction with some of the crumbs finding their way to clean energy. The combination might not be as good as a carbon tax or cap-n-trade, but it’s the best we can hope for over the next few years. That is, unless the 2012 election swings control of congress wildly back to the Democrats.

  2. Jen says:

    A CES is quite possibly the worst way to go about promoting real clean energy. This “Clean” energy standard includes natural gas and nuclear – natural gas drilling is threatening the health and well-being of millions of US citizens living near wells or dependent on watersheds where drilling is/could occur and nuclear is costly and dangerous to all of us. If it is dangerous or makes you sick, it is not clean.

    This move by the Obama administration is changing the definition of targets so that we can meet them without having to change the status quo too much. It confuses the public into thinking that a Clean Energy Standard actually promotes clean energy, which it doesn’t. Lumping solar, wind, and real renewable, clean technologies in with nuclear, gas and CCS means that the majority of funds will go to the nuclear, gas, and coal industries leaving peanuts for renewables. The more we continue to prop up gas and nuclear, the less time and funding we have for the real clean stuff.

    It is a cowardly way to appear as though the US is making changes for the better without actually making the real investments in renewables and shift away from dangerous energy that we must make. It’s all in the details, and the details are disturbing.

    [JR: I agree the devil is in the details. CAPAF doesn’t support a CES that would not achieve substantial increases in renewables. Nukes are so expensive that unless they come down in price sharply, a CES would have minimal impact. Natural gas is going to be competitive and displace some new renewables absent a CES. Is any of this adequate to solve the climate problem? Of course not. Is that a reason to do nothing?]