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UCS: Renewable electricity standard will create jobs and lower consumer energy bills

A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists makes a clear, convincing case for a strong nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES). Any renewable standard, of course, should be accompanied by an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard.

The UCS analyzed the economic benefits of a national standard requiring utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, in addition to assessing the environmental benefits. Their study finds that such a standard would create:

  • 297,000 new jobs from renewable energy development
  • $263.4 billion in new capital investment
  • $9.9 billion in income
  • $7.3 billion in U.S. gross domestic product
  • $11.5 billion in new local tax revenues
  • $64.3 billion in lower electricity and natural gas bills, by 2025

A RES saves consumers cash because investments in renewable fuels mean investments in American energy. Less money is sent overseas for fossil fuels from other countries which drives prices down, while also diversifying the U.S. fuel base. The typical household would save more than $67 in annual gas and electricity costs by 2025 under the 25 percent standard. If a carbon cap is also enacted, the RES could generate an additional $19.4 billion in savings by 2025 from the avoided emissions that would result from reduced consumption.

A RES is a major job generator because renewable energy investments largely go to labor intensive industries, such as manufacturing, installation, and maintenance. The study further points out that renewable energy industries such as wind energy exhibited remarkably strong growth last year despite the downturn in the economy. The number of people employed in the U.S. wind industry alone increased by over 240 percent in 2008, to 85,000 people.

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The UCS found that many of these clean-energy industry jobs will be created in the Midwest and Southeast, regions currently rely heavily on coal power. The benefits to the states that would transition to clean energy industries are significant. In addition to a significant growth in employment in the manufacturing sector, renewable energy capacity would escalate. Southeastern states would see a six-fold increase in renewable energy capacity by 2025, compared to 2007 levels. Taxpayers in Midwestern and Southeastern states would also experience major savings from lower electricity and natural gas bills.

A quick look at some of the potential savings on the state level:

  • Arkansas, Florida, Georgia would all save over $1 billion
  • Louisiana would save over $5 billion
  • Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio would each save between $2 and $4 billion
  • Texas would save a whopping $21.13 billion (not a Southeastern state, but an impressive number nonetheless)

Clearly, a strong RES is a win-win: it boosts the economy while reducing CO2 emissions and the threat of global climate change. According to the UCS,

The 25 percent national standard would lower power plant CO2 emissions 277 million metric tons annually by 2025 . . . the equivalent of the annual output from 70 typical (600 MW) new coal plants or taking 45.3 million cars off the road.

The study helpfully quantifies the potential fossil fuel savings, noting that a 25 by ’25 standard:

… would cumulatively displace 12.4 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas — including 0.9 tcf of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports — and 547 million short tons of coal compared with business as usual. That amount of coal would fill a train nearly 56,000 miles long (more than twice Earth’s circumference). The amount of LNG imports saved would eliminate the need for 323 supertanker delivers into the United States.

The savings from a 25 percent standard are big — really big. Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Todd Platts (R-PA), and Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Tom Udall (D-NM), recognized the two-fold economic and environmental benefits when they released legislation requiring utilities to produce 25 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025 in the House and Senate last month.

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Next week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will begin work on an omnibus energy bill. Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) will leave “controversial” measures — such as a renewable electricity standard and transmission issues — for after the Easter recess, when stiff debate will continue. Although a national RES would create jobs and spur the rapid development of clean, renewable energy, opposition to a strong and effective standard reportedly raises the threat that an RES might not survive committee deliberations.

Weaker RES plans will be discussed, and would produce some benefits. These plans include Bingaman’s 20 percent by 2021 standard, in addition to standards that would including nuclear energy and already existing hydropower.

In the face of the risks posed by our current emissions path — sky-rocketing temperatures, massive sea level rise, widespread desertification, increasingly severe weather events — “some benefits” are simply not enough.

— Kalen Pruss

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