Today’s proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency is being called one of the strongest actions ever taken by the U.S. government to fight climate change. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal calls for cutting cut carbon emissions from existing power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, 30% by 2030.
In brief, the EPA’s goals for 2030 are:
Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30% nationwide below 2005 levels.
Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25% as a co-benefit.
Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days -- providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits.
Shrink electricity bills roughly 8% by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.
The plan is already being critiqued on the grounds that it will cost too much. The Chamber of Commerce has given the dire warning that it could lower GDP by $50 billion annually. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy disagrees; in a speech today, she noted, “Given the astronomical price we pay for climate inaction, the most costly thing we can do; is to do nothing.” She added, “This is about protecting local economies and jobs…. Homegrown clean energy is posting record revenues and creating jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.... The facts are clear. For over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70 percent and the economy has more than tripled.”
She echoed this in a statement released today: "We don't have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs."
This is not just the EPA talking. Those of us in the solar industry know that clean energy brings many economic as well as environmental benefits. And many others are also chiming in. According to Greentech Media, “128 major companies and 49 investors managing $800 billion in assets sent a letter to the EPA touting the ‘economic opportunities’ from regulating carbon pollution in a flexible way.”
Flexibility is a key aspect of the proposed plan, and one that McCarthy emphasized several times in her speech. States have the leeway to reach the goal however they see fit -- through programs like energy efficiency, renewable energy procurement and generation, on-site pollution controls, demand-side management, or regional cap-and-trade programs. Even the timeline is flexible, with plans due in June 2016, and the option to follow a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed. States that have already invested in energy-efficiency programs can build on those to help meet their goal.
In addition to touting the economic benefits in her speech, McCarthy made a very American appeal for the reason to fight carbon pollution: “Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks not just to our health, but to our communities, our economy, and our way of life.”
Implications for solar
Solar power in the U.S. is already experiencing a banner year and promises to keep building steam. The new plan should bode well for further propelling solar into the mainstream.
As Renewable Energy World pointed out, it’s still too early to know which states will take which steps, and what the plan will mean for a specific renewable energy source. But the plan does seem likely to serve as a catalyst for more solar development. In states that don’t want to close down their existing fossil fuel plants, more renewable plants may be needed to offset that pollution.
Coal, according to Forbes, is still too widespread in the U.S. to be killed by the plan. And the plan itself may not be as big as it sounds, given that the count starts from 2005 levels -- having achieved a 15% reduction between 2005 and now, we’re already halfway there.
Still, it’s a good trajectory to keep on. The EPA did note that the plan builds on trends already under way. We can expect for that to include the trend of increased solar adoption.
According to Greentech Media, the EPA expects non-hydro renewable energy capacity to grow by 67% by the end of the decade, if the new plan is implemented.
The EPA will accept comments on the proposal for 120 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28 in Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh. Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June following the schedule laid out in the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.
You can read the full 645-page plan here.