The use of fossil fuels to generate power in the United States (U.S.) is a major problem calling for urgent, sound policy intervention. The improvement and national dispersion of fracking technology has resulted in growing U.S. production of energy derived from there limited, non-renewable sources. (Rosenbaum 2019, 232). Extraction is impacting public lands as the nation’s sacred areas are being developed to nourish the fossil fuel industry (Rosenbaum 2019). Additionally, fracking is cultivating conditions for a variety of disasters including fires and earthquakes as well as produces waste which potentially leads to detrimental, large-scale spilling of toxic substances. That said, about 80 percent of all domestically consumed energy is derived from petroleum, coal, and natural gas (Rosenbaum 2019, 231). The non-renewable energy consumption is directly related to generation of carbon dioxide emissions. Approximately 43 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions generated by the U.S. come from petroleum, 28 percent from coal, and 29 percent from natural gas (Rosenbaum 2019, 231). Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for about 66 percent of the total energy imbalance causing global warming (Lindsey 2020). With the human race’s existence at stake, now is the time for the nation to significantly addresses climate change through refining its energy policy.
The problem’s high degree of severity brought a national 100% renewable energy standard into consideration. Nearly 75% of U.S. States have adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requiring a certain percentage of a utility’s sales come from eligible renewable energy technologies (Cleary et al. 2019). By allowing renewable energy production to generate renewable energy credits that can be traded, an RPS provides a market-based solution to meeting renewable energy deployment goals. Although it is clear the U.S. needs to no longer be reliant on fossil fuels, it is widely debated whether a national 100% RPS is the most strategic route to take. The following memo outlines the main issues factoring into the decision with their respective arguments, including both in favor and opposition of the national standard. The final recommended policy solution is against a national 100% RPS, as it suggests a more inclusive deployment of low-emissions technology coupled with redistribution of incentives.
Benefits and Costs of a National 100% RPS
It is crucial to explore whether the national 100% RPS is cost-effective in terms of reducing emissions. The cost to of the renewable energy technology in itself dropped significantly during the past few years as clean technologies are already displacing higher- emissions plants based on market forces alone (Cleary et al. 2019). Further, a federal RPS could lower compliance costs relative to a collection of state RPS policies by allowing trading among a greater number of resources over a much larger geographic area (Cleary et al. 2019). However, in the case a city such as Atlanta needed to buy renewable energy credits from a predominantly rural state such as North Dakota, the abundant renewable resources and low population in the rural area means that supply could exceed local demand. Although the grid can handle 20% of its power coming from an intermittent source such as wind, it is well beyond the state of the art to handle 50% or more in one area. As a result, supply disruptions are likely (Apt et al. 2008). Scaling up wind and solar power would require replacing hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines with high voltage wire, in addition to outfitting the infrastructure with sensors to create a smart grid (DiChristopher 2019). Since renewable sources are located far from most heavily populated areas, a plethora of these expensive transmission lines would have to be built which would double the cost of delivered power (Apt et al. 2008).
While the cost of 100% renewable energy technology itself continues to plummet, the infrastructure required to support it is too extensive and expensive.
Incorporation of Low-Emissions Technology
In contrast, low-emissions sources create progression towards a cleaner future with less need for grid transformation. They are other less expensive ways to generate electricity that would not fall under the umbrella of 100% renewable such as natural gas fitted with carbon capture (Apt et al. 2008). In 2017, nuclear plants which are not 100% renewable generated 63% of the nation’s zero-carbon power (DiChristopher 2019). Having a greater number of technologies in competition to reduce emissions can increase market efficiency, lower costs for the same level of emissions reduction, and stimulate rapid policy implementation (Cleary et al. 2019). Therefore, the recommended policy solution is against a national 100% RPS.
Evaluation of Stakeholders
Understanding actors in the energy policy’s climate is well-understood by investigating responses to the Green New Deal, a proposal calling for a national 100% RPS from a lens aiming to combat environmental injustice. The stakeholder support and opposition is highly polarized. The plan’s pioneers are Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s and and Democratic Sen. Edward Markey. The plan is also supported by sixty House Democrats and powerful Senate Democrats, including past presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as current vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (Nwanevu 2019). Conversely, Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have spoken out against the plan (Stokes 2019). At the same time, labor unions representing fossil fuel workers, as well as current President Donald Trump oppose the RSP. In order for the RPS to have a chance at passing, it is crucial the democratic party wins the presidential election in November 2020 (Nwanevu 2019). Further, it is interesting to investigate the range of corporate stances as these stakeholders also influence legislation. Major fossil-fuel companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP superiorly invest massive amounts of money in lobbying to protect such a thing as a national RPS from ever happening and fight for government subsidies to remain competitive. Further, Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign is encouraging proactive discussions between cities and utilities (Trabish 2019). Certain forward-thinking and prepared utilities such as NextEra Energy, Duke Energy and Xcel Energy are in support of the RPS and have already created large-scale renewable energy projects to align with the mission (Trabish 2019). However, creating a 100% has the potential to lose support of stakeholders who originally supported a transition away from fossil fuels. For example, four automakers — Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW — have already made a deal with the State of California that would preserve emissions standards that are not as tough as the Obama standards but are significantly more ambitious than Trump’s proposal in order to support a customer-friendly shift towards highly efficient technology which enables the companies to compete in the international marketplace (Phillips and Mitchell 2020). That said, Francis O’Sullivan, head of research at the MIT Energy Initiative, mentioned how an over-ambitious policy has the potential to deter progress of the intended agenda (DiChristopher 2019). Demond Drummer, director at New Consensus which was assigned to draft out the Green New Deal emphasized its goals are not promises (DiChristopher 2019). However, the policy recommendation guarantees a plan of action.
With all that being said, the policy recommendation is a Clean Energy Standard (CES) requiring implementation of low-emission technologies and incentivizes to gradually eliminate the use of all fossil fuels. Since there is no low-emissions technology available for petroleum and coal, a properly implemented CES is going to completely eliminate the sources from being used to generate energy. By doing so, the solution is going to eliminate 71% of the nation’s carbon emissions from the get go while still allowing low-emissions technology to reduce greenhouse gases at a low cost. At this point, issuing generous federal tax credits for residential and commercial solar panel systems with batteries would be a great way to combat the costs associated with transmission because electricity could be sourced directly from rooftops or even nearby, private ground mounts instead of from far away. It will create a smooth transition to renewable energy that does not require waiting for a lengthy process of transmission line replacement before making a change or shocking of the grid. Overall, a CES with incentives brings equivalent level of emissions reductions as an RPS at a lower cost. Rather than narrowing down the standard to require the technology is 100% renewable, Congress and state legislatures need to first specify the need of reducing emissions at a low cost and then provide incentives for low-emissions technology deployment to rapidly occur which is going to result in a long-term, clean energy solution. In the meantime, there is room for further research involving how grid limitations can be conquered to reduce cost and balance demand with supply. In the case a smart grid is feasible, a policy response may be created to gradually implement it overtime. At that point, the federal government should provide additional subsidies for zero-emissions technology and revoke the ones supporting the low-emissions technology, which will eventually lead to all fossil fuels no longer being competitive and becoming obsolete. However, due to transmission expenses at this time, the nation is not prepared to implement a national 100% RPS.
Apt, Jay, Lester B. Lave and Sompop Pattanariyankool. 2008. “A National Renewable Portfolio Standard? Not Practical”. Issues in Science and Technology. 25 (1). Accessed October 24 2020.
Cleary, Kathryne, Karen Palmer, and Kevin Rennert. 2019. “Clean Energy Standards: Exploring the Options Available for Policymakers to Implement a CES at the State or Federal Level”. Resources for the Future. Accessed October 24 2020.
DiChristopher, Tom. 2019. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal would reshape the economy in 10 years. That could shock the energy sector”. CNBC. Accessed October 24 2020.
Nwanevu, Osita. 2019. “With the Green New Deal, Democrats Present a Radical Proposition for Combatting Climate Change”. The New Yorker. Accessed October 24 2020.
Lindsey, Rebecca. 2020. “Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide”. Climate.gov. Accessed October 24. Phillips, Anna and Russ Mitchell. 2020. “Trump Weakens Fuel Economy Standards, Rolling Back Key U.S. Effort Against Climate Change” Los Angeles Times. Accessed May 18 2020. Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy. 11th ed. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press. Stokes, Leah. 2019. “Can the Green New Deal make it through Congress? Here are 5 things you need to know”. The Washington Post. Accessed October 25 2020. Trabish, Herman. 2019. “As 100% renewables goals proliferate, what role for utilities?”. Utility Dive. Accessed October 25 2020.