Electricity
Climate Change Daily Energy Government Policy Vote

Electricity, a pressure point for mitigating climate change (Part 2)

Previously: Fossil fuel use for electrical power generation is wide-spread, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates that electricity accounts for about 27% of the total U.S. greenhouse emissions. Because electricity is regulated, it forms a pressure point where voters can mandate clean energy through the ballot box and force actions with far-reaching consequences that significantly mitigate climate change.

States are taking the lead in a move towards clean energy while the Federal Government dithers. Many states have stepped into the vacuum created by federal inaction and set realistic targets that move towards lowering or eliminating fossil fuel emissions over the next thirty years. Fifteen states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have commitments to obtain at least 50% of their electricity from clean sources. Fourteen of these commitments are for 100% clean energy.

These state commitments are essential. Without them, the financial obligations required to develop clean energy plants become too risky for many investors. A significant portion of the clean energy needed by states in fulfilling their goals comes from wind power. Offshore wind-generated power is a significant component of needed clean energy. Analysts predict that the offshore wind market will be a $70 billion industry by 2030. Procuring the significant financial resources needed for these projects requires long-term assurance that their electricity has an available market.

Understanding U.S. energy demand shines a light on why offshore wind power is deemed so necessary. The USA requires 1,100 gigawatts (Gw) of electric power capacity to keep the lights on. Currently, 16% of that energy classifies as clean, and wind accounts for about half the clean energy. Today almost all of that wind power is from onshore production, but that situation will change as we move forward. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy estimates that offshore wind has a technical capacity of about 2,000 Gw, or almost twice the current electricity demand for the whole country.

What about economics?

Having the technical capacity for generating all needed USA electricity is not synonymous with providing that power at an affordable cost. The economic challenges of moving to clean energy may prove more difficult than the technical task of generating it.

The move towards 100% clean electricity is surging forward on several fronts. A flurry of initiatives with green energy goals emerged from states, municipalities, and businesses over the past decade. Also, despite the current federal administration’s reluctance to embrace any meaningful stance on climate change, the Democratic Party’s interest in promoting the “Green New Deal,” and Biden’s bold campaign position for zero power-plant carbon emissions by 2035, both point to future federal involvement in reducing emissions.

The U.S. East Coast is optimally situated to produce wind power from locations close to large population centers, making these East Coast states ideal as first movers towards offshore wind power. But there are real economic challenges to clean energy. They may test the limits of the following climate change conundrum:

We desire a clean, livable environment, but we also want financial security and comfort. The tension between these two aspirations creates a quandary because we must sacrifice financially today, so future generations can enjoy a healthy environment tomorrow.

Consumers and voters

Cost is a significant issue since rising utility bills hit economically marginalized groups hardest. These groups are the ones who can least afford the increased costs. However, both left-leaning (Brookings Institute) and right-leaning (Heritage Foundation) think tanks point out that going green will incur additional costs for consumers. Interestingly about 85% of U.S. voters support requiring that electric utility companies transition to renewable energy, but only half of these voters indicated a willingness to pay higher prices. Cost is an issue for voters. So, with a 50/50 split on the consumer cost issue, the ultimate fate of a move to clean energy will be decided at the ballot box, perhaps based more on ideology and personal finances, than science.

Importantly, commitments to clean electricity are still aspirational, meaning that the full costs of fulfilling these goals are highly uncertain. Estimated household costs for 100% clean energy vary widely, ranging from $200 to $2000 per year. Unless Federal mandates appear, then the map to clean energy will be a patchwork quilt across the nation, as state voters wax and wane over the merits of clean electricity.

Mitigating climate change requires a collective vision of a carbon-free future. Science is not the issue, because the science is reasonably clear about both the threats climate change poses and the policies and technologies needed to combat it. Ideology thus becomes the defining critical element in determining our future. In countries governed by elected representatives, climate change mitigation will be addressed through voting. Clean electricity is a vital pressure point for change, so arrange your priorities and then vote for the future you envision.


ArcheanWeb:

Electrical power, a climate change puzzle (Source: ArcheanWeb) –  https://archeanweb.com/2020/06/26/electrical-power-a-climate-change-puzzle/  Also:

A Breezy Future: The Rise Of Wind Power (Source: ArcheanWeb) – https://archeanweb.com/2020/06/17/a-breezy-future-the-rise-of-wind-power/  Also:

U.S. East Coast, a hot spot for clean energy (Source: ArcheanWeb) – https://archeanweb.com/2020/07/14/u-s-east-coast-a-hot-spot-for-clean-energy/  Also:

States take the lead and move to clean energy (Source: ArcheanWeb) – https://archeanweb.com/2020/07/15/states-take-the-lead-and-move-to-clean-energy/  Also:


Sources:

Computing America’s Offshore Wind Energy Potential (Source: Office of Energy Efficiency $ Renewable Energy) – https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/computing-america-s-offshore-wind-energy-potential  Also:

Green New Deal: Is 100% Renewable Energy Even Possible, Or Good For The Environment? (By John Merline; Investor’s Business Daily) – https://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/renewable-energy-possible-good-environment/  Also:

Who is willing to pay more for renewable energy? (By Abel Gustafson, Matthew Goldberg, Seth Rosenthal, John Kotcher, Edward Maibach, and Anthony Leiserowitz;  Yale Program on Climate Change Communication) – https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/who-is-willing-to-pay-more-for-renewable-energy/  Also:

Feature Image: Power Lines (Modified) – By Steven Brown, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13206909

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.