What you should know about the President’s Clean Energy Plan

What you should know about the President's Clean Energy PlanThe White House’a new Clean Energy Plan increases required cuts in carbon emissions from the energy sector and accelerates the push toward renewable energy nationwide. The plan, which was released in August, would reduce emissions 32 percent from the levels 10 years ago by the year 2030.

With strong but achievable standards for energy producers and customized goals for states, the Clean Energy Plan provides consistency, accountability and a level playing field while also reflecting the differences in the energy mix at the state level. This is important for smaller states and critical for larger states, such as California and New York, who have pushed clean power for a while.

Establishing the goal, based on 2005 levels, acknowledges that many people and businesses have already made a move toward clean energy with solar panels and other improvements. However, setting the goal at 32 percent is actually higher than the 30 percent first proposed. The White House estimates that its plan will keep 870 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution out of the atmosphere.

“Right now our power plants are the source of about a third of America’s carbon pollution — that’s more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes contribute combined,” said President Barack Obama.

These first-ever national standards for levels of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pollution from power plants are expected to kick off a legal battle between regulators and the energy sector, particularly coal industry representatives. There could also be a state’s rights argument that develops, much like the one related to the Affordable Care Act that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the President believes the plan is “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.”

Clean Energy Plan specifics and state levels

The Clean Air Act of 1963 establishes stepped-up goals — both interim and long term — for emission performance in coal- and oil-fired power plants. It then allows U.S. states and territories to determine how they will meet those goals.

The states and territories have different options available for implementing the standards. They can establish interim and final goals for their jurisdiction in three forms:

  • A mass-based goal that will be assessed based on short tons of CO2;
  • A rate-based goal to be measured based on pounds per megawatt hour (lb/MWh);
  • A goal that is mass-based by energy source that will also be measured in short tons of CO2.

Options also exist for establishing multi-state efforts and goals.

States then develop and implement plans for the power plants in their state — either individually or in combination with other measures by 2022, 2029 and the final 2030.

The state goal component of the Clean Energy Plan, as well as the look-back to 2005, acknowledges that not every state is starting from the same place. Some states have already implemented stringent emissions standards and are well on the way to cutting emissions. For example, many have already implemented incentives for solar energy.

Each state or territory is required to submit its own plan for cutting emissions by Sept. 6, 2016. Those plans are expected to be finalized and approved by the federal government by the end of summer 2018.

Two states that have already made considerable progress, and should be examples for others, are California and New York. Those states may actually find that the 2005 look-back is not helpful since they were already reducing emissions well before then.


California has already set ambitious goals for emissions and its people have cut energy consumption considerably. In fact, while the rest of the country has steadily increased its energy usage, the per capita electricity consumption in California has remained flat for decades. By some estimates, the efforts so far have avoided the need for 30 power plants.

The state launched a cap-and-trade program, which uses a market-based approach to lower greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006, California moved to cap the state’s emissions at 1990 levels by 2020. There is a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

What about the new goal and 2005 requirement? By some estimates, California has already reduced its carbon pollution from the power sector by 8 percent since 2008. The state has goals established calling for 33 percent of electricity sales to be from renewable energy by 2020 and energy consumption to be reduced by 10 percent within 10 years.

New York

New York is another state that has been aggressive in its efforts and has made considerable progress. In fact, some estimates suggest the state has reduced its power sector carbon pollution by 29 percent since 2008. That means the state is already close to achieving the new Clean Energy Plan goal.

New York has also focused on aggressive demand-side energy efficiency programs. The state has set a goal to generate 29 percent of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable energy resources by the end of 2015 and 50 percent by 2030. On the consumption side, the state aims to reduce usage by 15 percent below the levels originally projected by 2015 and energy consumption in buildings by 23 percent by 2030, based on 2012 levels.

If you’re thinking of doing your part to reduce carbon emissions by installing a solar energy system in your home, visit www.rgsenergy.com for more information and a free quote.

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