Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Bipartisan Case for Transitioning to a 100% Renewable Energy Grid

By Casille Systermans, Policy Extern 

Combatting climate change is an urgent issue that requires immediate action. To that end, the United States should commit now to transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid. However, climate change remains a divisive political issue that almost inevitably divides people along party lines. Therefore, it is unlikely that the need to act on climate change is going to bring about a national commitment to renewable energy any time in the foreseeable future. Renewable energy proponents urgently need to find a way to reach across the aisle and build broad bipartisan support for a 100% renewable energy grid.

Conservatives view fossil fuels as an economically beneficial means of preserving jobs in rural America and providing the United States with cheap and reliable electricity. Luckily, a renewable energy transition can provide the United States with these same benefits. Climate change is only one of many reasons why the United States should commit to transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid. Burning fossil fuels contaminates America’s air and water and has negative effects on public health. Additionally, fossil fuels are a finite resource and therefore cannot meet America’s energy needs indefinitely. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels leaves America dependent on foreign imports, and thus vulnerable to changing international circumstances. Transitioning to an entirely renewable energy electric grid will bring opportunity and jobs to rural and urban America and can provide the United States with sustainable energy that will almost certainly be cheaper than fossil energy in the long run because renewables have no added fuel costs. Additionally, transitioning to a renewable energy grid will improve the health and wellbeing of all Americans by dramatically reducing pollution-related health impacts and mitigating the devastating and expensive impacts of climate change. Building a 100% renewable energy grid will not be easy; however, renewable energy is best for the United States, its people and the world, and the first step toward achieving a 100% renewable energy grid is committing to the goal.

An Unproductive Conversation

The conversation around what to do about climate change and the associated impacts from America’s energy system has traditionally focused on how, when, and if fossil fuels should be regulated. During the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama declared: “If somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can – it’s just that it will bankrupt them.” Environmental groups like the Sierra Club campaign to move ‘Beyond Coal.’ In response to the environmental push to drive coal out of business, conservative groups have accused environmentalists and the Obama administration of waging a “war on coal.” However, each side in the partisan debate about America’s energy future is missing the point.

Proponents of regulating coal and other fossil fuels are well intentioned, yet they often diminish or dismiss conservative concerns about the costs regulations impose directly on businesses and indirectly on consumers. However, focusing exclusively on the potential cost of fossil fuel regulation and not on the larger issues associated with burning fossil fuels is also short-sighted and ultimately worse for consumers. Burning fossil fuels for electricity has negative impacts on public health that are not reflected in the cost of electricity. Research shows that the hidden health costs associated with burning fossil fuels in the United States are as much as $886.5 billion annually. Transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid will reduce pollution-related health impacts and save all Americans money. This will be particularly beneficial for rural America, because rural areas are far more likely to lack access to affordable, high-quality health care.

While each side on the debate about if and how to regulate fossil fuels is well-intentioned, fossil fuel regulation alone is an incomplete strategy for securing America’s energy future. Regulations on fossil fuels can help to protect public health and reduce environmental degradation; however, regulation alone cannot ensure that the U.S. will achieve an efficient transition to a clean and reliable renewable energy grid. Additionally, focusing on regulating the negative effects of fossil fuel consumption, rather than focusing on how to most effectively and economically transition away from fossil fuels, bolsters the conservative argument that regulations are bad for business. Assuring a secure, reliable and clean energy future for the United States requires committing to a long-term goal that everyone should be able agree on: transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid.

Re-Focusing the Conversation

Regulatory uncertainty is bad for business and can cause consumer prices to go up, particularly in the energy industry, where planning to meet customer’s future energy needs is essential. The dramatic shifts in U.S. energy policy that the country has experienced recently make it hard for businesses to plan for the future. For example, the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan create substantial uncertainty regarding the regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the federal level. Businesses understand that even if the Clean Power Plan is repealed, it is highly likely that a future presidential administration will prioritize regulating GHG emissions at the federal level. This uncertainty encourages utilities to make reactionary financial decisions, rather than strategic investments, because any decisions made under the current regulatory conditions could be undermined after the next national election.

Transitioning to an entirely new energy grid will require planning and commitment. Committing to a 100% renewable energy transition creates certainty, and therefore is better for businesses and consumers. When utilities create their integrated resource plans and determine how to best meet their customers’ energy needs, there will be no need to account for the constant threat of major policy shifts; instead, the policy will already be in place, so utilities can focus on the task of reaching the ambitious goal of a 100% renewable energy grid.

Committing the United States to transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid is good for businesses, communities, and consumers. The most common argument conservative politicians use to justify their opposition to clean energy is the potential cost to consumers, in the form of increased energy bills. However, coal is becoming less competitive on its own because of the proliferation of cheap natural gas-fired electricity, and the price of renewable energy has gone down significantly in recent years. Indeed, some renewable energy sources have already achieved price parity with traditional fossil resources.

The economic arguments that conservative opponents of clean energy use to justify continuing to subsidize and prefer fossil resources are outdated, short-sited, and a disservice to America. America has been and should continue to be a world leader, and innovation and hard work are key to the nation’s continued success. If the United States commits to transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid, it can be done.

Renewable Energy and Conservative Values

The so-called ‘war on coal’ is sometimes characterized as a war on Appalachia or on ‘coal country,’ which is made up primarily of predominantly conservative rural communities. For decades, these areas have been dependent on coal for economic success, and therefore conservatives have come to view any regulations designed to reduce coal consumption as an attack on these communities and their way of life. However, a renewable energy transition can offer new economic opportunity to these areas and can revitalize rural communities. The solar industry employs far more people than the coal industry, and the solar and wind energy industries are creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Utility-scale solar and wind power facilities must be located where sunlight and wind are most abundant, which is often in rural communities. Therefore, adding large amounts of wind and solar power to the U.S. electric grid will require investing in rural communities, thereby creating more rural jobs. Additionally, transitioning to an entirely renewable energy grid will require investment in new transmission lines to connect remotely located utility-scale renewable projects to the cities that they need to power. Depending on state law, the development of new transmission lines can bring significant economic benefit to rural communities.

Additionally, transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid will require significant investment in distributed generation technology. Distributed generation, like roof-top solar, is located at or near the site of consumption and therefore can bring jobs and economic benefits to communities throughout the United States, including communities in Appalachia and in depressed urban areas.

A renewable energy transition can and will bring benefits to communities throughout the United States, whether they are urban, suburban or rural communities. By creating good, stable, and high-paying energy jobs throughout the country, the renewable energy transition will help rebuild struggling communities and foster strong community spirit.

Conclusion

America should commit to transitioning to a 100% renewable energy grid. Making this commitment now will create regulatory certainty, and therefore will benefit the energy industry moving forward. The transition to a renewable energy grid will revitalize communities across the United States by creating jobs and economic opportunities. Additionally, the transition will reduce pollution and therefore will help protect people from pollution-related illness. In turn, the increase in high-quality jobs, stronger energy security, and reductions in pollution-related illnesses will strengthen American families. Committing to a 100% renewable energy grid will ensure that America has a sustainable and reliable energy future and will benefit the American people, no matter what side of the political aisle they are on.

1 comment:

  1.  I want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more. 
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