What is the Clean Energy Standard all about?
Climate change is causing a lot of mind-blowing damage. In the first half of 2021, there were already eight climate-related disasters that cost over a billion dollars in damages including drought, tornadoes, floods, storms, and extreme weather.
This is not normal. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its sixth assessment report, which shows the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events is undoubtedly human-caused. Unprecedented climate impacts worldwide are expected to get more frequent and extreme unless we greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) starting today.
The message of the report is simple. To address climate change, we need to reduce GHGs, which primarily come from burning fossil fuels. This is also one of Goodfair’s core values: a low carbon footprint.
One of the proposed solutions in the U.S. right now is a nationwide Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP), which is sometimes called a clean energy standard. Here’s a brief primer on this important climate policy.
What is the proposed clean energy standard?
This CEPP policy, which is part of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, is quite simple. It sets targets for utilities to reduce their GHGs each year until 80% of energy transitions to net zero emissions by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2035. If the utilities meet the targets, they get paid. If they don’t, they get fined.
The target for every power company, no matter their current starting point, is to increase clean energy use by 4 percent every year. This could spur meaningful investment in renewables, which are the cheapest alternative to fossil fuels.
This bill has a $150 billion dollar annual price tag, but none of that raises energy bill costs. Instead, it is paid for by taxes. For some perspective, the US spent $725 billion of its tax-based budget on defense in 2020 (11 percent of the budget). Naysayers have called this too expensive, but it’s really a small fraction of the total budget for such a popular policy.
Currently, 30 states and more than 100 cities have adopted clean electricity targets, according to Vox. On the one hand, this shows the broad level of support to transition to clean energy. On the other hand, this patchwork approach to solving climate change is advancing too slowly to reach the US target of net zero GHGs by 2050.
A Morning Consult poll shows that ⅔ of American voters support 100% clean energy. For regional breakdowns, a Third Way poll shows as much as 80% of heavily populated coastal regions support this goal, while districts in central states like Nebraska and Oklahoma with the least support still show roughly 50% of the population in favor.
Even the International Energy Association, a global leader in energy policy, recommends shifting all new energy investments away from fossil fuels.
Why is a clean energy policy important?
First, we need to keep in mind that there’s not a lot of time to act on climate change. We need to cut GHGs from burning fossil fuels in half by 2030 and completely reach net-zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophe. We’ve only started to get a taste of this with an annual wildfire season, severe floods in New York subways, and infrastructure breakdowns like what happened in the Texas cold snap in February.
Roughly a third of the GHG footprint in the US comes from electricity production. Coal (20%) and natural gas (40%) power about 60% of the electricity needs. The remaining 40% comes from wind and solar and nuclear, which are about evenly split. Reaching 100% clean energy by 2035 also paves the way to clean up the transportation sector, since electric vehicles will depend on power from the electrical grid.
The policy comes with huge benefits beyond addressing climate change, too. Cleaning up the energy sector will not only lessen climate risks, but create jobs, improve air quality, and save lives--approximately 317,500 lives over the next 30 years, according to Harvard.
What’s the process to approve the Clean Energy Standard?
At first, the Clean Energy Payment Plan was included in the Infrastructure Bill, but during bipartisan negotiations, it got taken out. Now, Democrats hope to pass it through a simple majority vote as part of budget reconciliation.
Even though it sounds simple enough, it faces significant opposition from the senate, the minority Republican senate could attempt to use the filibuster.
According to NBC, “The arcane rules being used to circumvent a filibuster prohibit changing any part of law that’s not strictly taxes and spending. A federal mandate that power companies use a particular energy source may not meet that definition.”
For this reason, it may not be feasible for Democrats to meet environmental activist group demands for requiring “no gas” in the policy.
The CEPP could also face resistance from West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin (D), who has expressed reservations about the policy. As Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he will likely draft large portions of the policy.
What you can do to support 100% clean energy
- Call your Congress members to show support for a Clean Energy Standard.
- Support a local clean energy standard if your state or city doesn’t have a target set.
- Write or call your utility company asking for clean energy options.
- Support activist groups pressuring lawmakers to act on climate.
- Reduce the emissions of your shopping and lifestyle carbon footprint.