“I think of 100% [renewables] as a bit of a red herring. If you want 100%, it should be 100% zero carbon electricity. Climate change is the existential threat and I don’t want to waste time arguing about what’s renewable or not. You have to get the carbon out of the energy system as quickly as possible.”
— California Governor Jerry Brown, quoted in CleanTechnica
Mechanisms to help refocus our efforts on emissions
The Climate Coalition is striving to refocus attention from the dispute over which types of clean energy to promote over others, back to the central issue of actually solving climate change, which means reducing emissions. By signing the Zero Emission Manifesto, you are showing your support for this mission.
Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) which require utilities to install increasing amounts of renewable energy have helped to drive down the costs of wind and solar and increase the amount of these forms of clean energy. Unfortunately, in many cases including in California, because existing nuclear power does not qualify as “renewable” energy under the RPS, it can result in decisions to close nuclear power, which vastly increases emissions when natural gas generation increases as a result. This reveals the central problem with the way these RPS standards are written: they are quibbling about what’s “renewable,” rather than focusing on preserving and increasing sources of zero-emission energy.
We need drastic reductions in emissions. Our policies need to make emissions reduction the goal and not provide cover for more fossil fuel use. We can continue to increase solar and wind generation but we need to also demand that the way utilities address the “duck curve” is done with clean power. Current RPS policies allow utilities to build more natural gas for that purpose, increasing emissions to the detriment of the climate. Here are a few policy recommendations for correcting these errors.
Driving emissions down to zero
The following are high-priority energy policy changes that will help achieve rapid emissions reductions:
1. Change Renewable Portfolio Standards to Clean Energy Standards, which is inclusive of all zero-emission energies sources, and refocus state goals on achieving milestones towards zero net emissions.
2. Maintain Renewable Portfolio Standards but require that “renewables” be defined as being sources of energy that do not emit carbon—inclusive of their back-up sources.
3. Empower utilities to use all available clean energy and carbon neutral technologies to reduce their emissions and compensate them to develop improved grid switching mechanisms to divert excess power generated by renewables and/or nuclear to the important tasks of water purification, carbon draw-down and hydrogen production for synthetic fuels, so no energy abatement is required.
4. Restructure utility financial incentives to reward their success in meeting the zero net emissions goal as quickly as possible, combined with re-directing excess power to carbon draw-down activity, and remove incentives from the build-out of any new generation that adds emissions.
5. Apply the use of Cap and Trade revenues, carbon tax and fossil fuel taxes to fund clean tech innovation to improve all forms of clean energy and clean technologies, help create clean jobs and bolster the U.S.’s competive position in the global markets for advanced energy and grid security.
6. Hold purveyors of fossil fuels financially responsible for the CO2 emissions they have contributed and assess penalties to cover the removal of CO2 from the ocean and atmosphere so as to immediately fund commencement of this critical draw-down activity.
7. Anticipate the full phase out of fossil fuels entirely by implementing progressive penalties on utilities that continue emitting CO2 after a reasonable transition period.