The United States is no longer the world leader in renewable energy production or green energy technology. Recovery Act spending is keeping us in the global green energy game, but the United States will have to play catch up if we want to regain our global leadership position. We no longer produce the most clean energy, and are now 11th among G-20 nations in clean energy investment intensity -- clean energy investment as a percentage of gross domestic product. Technology and markets everywhere are moving ahead of the U.S.
If we want to regain our global leadership, we will need to make policy choices that have been shown to make a difference. According to the Pew G-20 Clean Energy Factbook, “Nations such as China, Brazil, Germany and Spain are assuming leadership positions in the clean energy sector. The leaders all have adopted national energy policies, many including setting renewable energy standards. Other policy measures adopted by the leading countries include efficiency standards, feed-in tariffs, carbon reduction targets and/or financial incentives for investment and production.”
Because the United States has no national policy, many states have tried to fill the void by adopting their own sets of policies. The result is a patchwork of rules, a weak national clean energy economy, and a pile of unanswered and wrong-headed objections. One old objection claimed it would be difficult for some states to meet any clean energy requirements. North Carolina was a case in point. However, the North Carolina legislature ignored their consultant’s 5 percent recommendation, set their renewable energy standard at 7.5 percent, and commissioned a study to determine the states potential for wind energy.
Less than a year later, the Coastal Wind: Energy for North Carolina’s Future study revealed an offshore potential for wind power generation exceeding 20 GW. The annual output from a 20 GW wind farm would equal 130 percent of the total power consumption of the state. North Carolina now plans to aggressively move ahead on both public and private fronts, and has adopted a 12.5 percent RES for 2021. Will it be difficult for North Carolina to meet a renewable energy requirement? I think not!
Finally, the Department of Defense is testing ambitious Renewable Energy Standards for all of us and the results are positive. The Navy established the goal of making half of its facilities net-zero (the facility produces more energy than it uses) by 2025. A Navy based geothermal power plant in California currently generates 100 percent of that base’s electricity. A 500-MW solar plant is planned for the Army’s Ft. Irwin base in California. Other solar arrays and even a bio-fuels plant are planned by the Army and the Air Force. In combat zones, the Army is exploring mobile solar and wind generators to replace fuel trucks which are frequent targets for insurgent attacks.
Our military views the wisdom of creating energy-independent bases as a security issue. When a base produces its own energy, that base is ultimately immune from threats to the utility grid. Their choice is clear, especially when costs are reduced as well. On-site renewable energy increases military security. The key concept here is on-site energy production, and it can increase energy security for all of us. If the United States wants to regain our global economic leadership in innovation and technology for the new clean energy economy it will require a bipartisan effort. The Senate’s proposed stand-alone RES proposal is currently co-sponsored by 34 Senators from both sides of the aisle, an important step forward.
By itself a Renewable Energy Standard is not a national energy policy, but it is a firm step forward that could indicate a national, bipartisan commitment to the global green economy. An RES will continue the economic shift to renewable energy. It will give the investment market a measure of security. It will create energy security for our country, and it will move the United States economy forward in the clean and renewable energy direction already chosen by most of the world’s economies.
Jane Twitmyer is a member of Renewable Loudoun. She writes for the blog at www.LoudounVoice.org and served in local government in a variety of positions in Redding, CT.