The Clean Power Plan, due to be released in final form within weeks, is the cornerstone of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the foundation for building the clean energy economy we need to prevent climate disaster and promote prosperity for all Americans. This groundbreaking policy will establish the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants—America’s largest sources of this dangerous pollutant.
When the Clean Power Plan goes into effect, each state will have a carbon pollution target that it must meet (expressed either as an emission rate in tons of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated or even more simply as a total mass in tons). The cooperative process built into the Clean Air Act gives each state the opportunity to design a clean energy plan that suits its own circumstances and resources. Each state is free to meet its target any way it wants, or if the governor chooses to follow Mitch McConnell’s bad advice, a state can let the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directly regulate power plants within its borders.
The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) analyzed the EPA’s original Clean Power Plan proposal and found that it would continue the trend of decreasing reliance on coal and drive a substantial increase in renewable energy generation. EIA’s notoriously conservative model projected that with the Clean Power Plan in place coal-fired generation will drop by 43 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 while generation from renewable sources (including hydro) nearly triples. Nuclear generation is expected to remain relatively flat, so the net result is that 43 percent of electricity generation in 2030 will come from carbon-free sources.
Assuming that the final Clean Power Plan achieves similar results, this is a solid foundation for building a clean energy economy. But we can’t solve climate change by only laying a foundation. We need to use that foundation to build a skyscraper that gets more than half of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2030 and runs entirely on clean energy by the middle of the century.
Building this infrastructure will be far easier than many people think. The cost of both wind and solar have dropped dramatically in the last five years, and electricity storage (one component of a comprehensive strategy to integrate high levels of variable renewable sources) is following a similar experience curve. Meanwhile, energy efficiency remains the low-hanging fruit that grows back as fast as we can pick it as new technologies come along.
If governors want better health, more jobs, and lower energy bills for their citizens they should develop state plans to shift to clean energy faster and further than required by the Clean Power Plan. After all, a foundation is something to build on–and the skyscraper is within our reach.