Establishing a Clean Energy Standard
A clean energy standard white paper was recently released in the U.S. Senate to solicit feedback stakeholder input on what that standard should include and how it should be attained. In this interview, Grist reporter David Roberts explains the concept behind a clean energy standard and how it would affect the nation's energy mix.
Roberts says the definition of a clean energy standard is not straightforward. Most people in politics, he says, are more familiar with a renewable energy standard, which requires that a certain percentage of electricity generation come from renewable sources, such as wind, solar or geothermal, and even those definitions are unclear. But a clean energy standard is much broader, he says, and includes natural gas, nuclear and carbon sequestration from coal plants -- basically everything except nonsequestered coal. So Roberts says it basically amounts to reducing the amount of coal that is used for U.S. electricity generation. It is difficult for the president to put it in those terms, because coal is well protected, politically.
Roberts believes the effects of a clean energy standard on U.S. energy and climate policy depends on the details of that standard. At this point, all those details are yet to be determined. Coal currently accounts for about 45 percent of U.S. electricity generation, but Obama's goal would cut that to 20 percent by 2035. All the other fine points of the plan are still to be determined. Still, Roberts believes that is a laudable goal, since burning coal is the top problem for the environmental movement.
It's also unclear how a national renewable energy standard would interact with existing state programs, Roberts says. It's one of the questions posed in the white paper that top members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee are circulating. Roberts calls a national standard that attempts to work with state standards "an unholy mess." He believes the worst case scenario for environmentalists would be for the national standard to preempt any state standards. That would be a victory for businesses and conservatives, who believe a single standard would make their compliance costs more predictable.
Roberts believes the best scenario for "climate hawks" would be for the national standard to be a floor that state standards could build on. He says that would at least set a standard for states that currently don't have one.
Roberts believes that anyone who has an interest in the outcome of a national clean energy standard should comment on the white paper. The committee is accepting comments until April 11. He says that group includes environmental groups, energy groups, unions, public health groups, industry groups and utilities that already use a lot of clean energy.
Last Wednesday was a big milestone for people who care about public health and a livable climate. Two utilities announced the planned closure of nine coal plants.Read more ...
Today, in the UK, the world's oldest nuclear power plant shut down.Read more ...
The U.S. led the world in clean energy investment in 2011, but China retained the top spot in the latest Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index from Ernst & Young.Read more ...
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