U.S. poised to sail past carbon targets, officials say

Source: Umair Irfan, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, March 11, 2016

Renewable energy and energy efficiency will get the United States past its climate targets, even without the Obama administration’s signature carbon policy, an energy agency official said yesterday.

“Renewable power, energy efficiency — they are moving forward, with the Clean Power Plan and without the Clean Power Plan,” said David Friedman, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

He spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing outlining his agency’s budget and its priorities. Friedman observed that the tax credit for wind and solar energy renewed last year will lower greenhouse gas emissions in the United States past the levels required by the Clean Power Plan, according to a study released last month by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (ClimateWire, Feb. 23).

“I actually would expect that we will probably ultimately see more renewable energy and more energy efficiency by 2030 than the Clean Power Plan requires,” he said, adding that he expects the rule to prevail nonetheless.

Others echoed him.

“In a number of ways, the Clean Power Plan is following the trends and not leading the trends,” said Carol Werner, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Other environmental policies are also at work in the energy sector. Scott Sklar, who leads the steering committee at the Sustainable Energy Coalition, noted that many environmental regulations outside the Clean Power Plan favor low-carbon energy without explicitly saying so.

“You also have the Clean Air Act requirements,” Sklar said. “They still have to deal with sulfur, nitrous oxides, particulates and mercury. And if that isn’t going to drive more renewables and energy efficiency in the system, I don’t know what is.”

The Obama administration asked Congress in its fiscal 2017 budget request for a 40 percent funding increase for EERE above 2016 enacted levels, bringing the division’s budget to $2.9 billion. EERE funds research and development in renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation.

It’s also one of the main beneficiaries of the United States’ commitment to double its clean energy research spending under Mission Innovation, an agreement among 20 countries signed during the Paris climate talks late last year.

“Mission Innovation really flows throughout all of our budget,” Friedman said.

But the projected growth in energy research funds isn’t enough, according to Friedman. Though the United States invests more than $45 billion in energy research, second only to China, other nations are committing a larger percentage of their budgets toward clean energy research.

“When you look at investments in R&D across the globe, the core fact of the matter is we are behind,” Friedman said.