A Blueprint for Meeting President Obama’s Clean Energy Goals

In his January 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama called for the United States to produce 80 percent of its electricity from “clean” energy sources by 2035. This clean energy standard has prompted much discussion on Capitol Hill and across the United States about how best to establish achievable, affordable clean energy policies that will strengthen the economy and transition the country to a more sustainable, less polluting energy system.

UCS wants to see that any energy standard that moves forward ensures the strong deployment of truly renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, geothermal and sustainable sources of low-carbon bioenergy, along with major improvements in energy efficiency.

As with any new policy, the “devil is in the details.” UCS will work with the Administration and Congress to keep any clean energy standard strong and effective while also benefiting consumers and the environment.  And UCS will vehemently oppose efforts to link any such standard with erosion of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority and standards to protect public health.

Clean Renewables and Energy Efficiency

A White House fact sheet estimates that current U.S. “clean energy” use stands at 40 percent. That figure is based on output from renewable energy sources and other no/lower-carbon energy sources such as nuclear power and natural gas (to which the White House proposes only to give partial credit). President Obama proposes to double the use of these resources to 80 percent by 2035, which would require reducing the use of conventional coal from about 45 percent today to no more than 20 percent in 2035. 

A 2009 UCS Climate 2030 Blueprint  shows that this level of deployment could be achieved or exceeded in 2030 relying almost entirely on new investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy (see figure). Such investments would dramatically reduce the need to burn coal, improve public health, and save consumers billions of dollars annually on their energy bills.

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Innovation and a Green Economy

Ramping up national reliance on renewable energy sources would also allow the United States to seize the leadership position in the new green economy by developing innovative solutions, creating new industries and new employment opportunities. In fact, a 2009 UCS analysis on renewable energy development and jobs (PDF) found that producing 25 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, for example, would create 300,000 new jobs—three times as many jobs as producing an equivalent amount of electricity from fossil fuels. It would strengthen our energy security by diversifying our energy supplies with fuels that cannot be depleted or embargoed.

Hitting the Goal: 80 Percent by 2035

UCS analyses show that implementing strong renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards is a smart, cost-effective way to reach President Obama’s 80 percent by 2035 goal. “This is clearly a White House priority,” said UCS President Kevin Knobloch. “Now, the president should use his leverage to ensure that government initiatives generate jobs and revitalize our economy by investing in truly clean technologies and weaning us off 19th century fossil fuel technologies.”

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