Innovation Requires Ambition

Publication: National Journal

Author: Phyllis Cuttino


02/03/2011 - President Obama laid out an ambitious energy agenda during his State of the Union address last week—the centerpiece of which is achieving an 80 percent Clean Energy Standard (CES) by 2035. This is the kind of bold goal needed to spur innovation, competitiveness and domestic power generation. We can do it and, with bold national leadership, we will do it.

Presently, in the absence of a federal mandate, more than 30 states have adopted renewable energy standards. This patchwork approach does not provide the kind of nationwide clarity or certainty that is required to propel significant long-term investment in clean energy technology. Nor does it provide all Americans with access to the economic, environmental and security benefits of reliable, affordable and clean electricity.

The United States needs a national policy roadmap that creates certainty for private investment in clean technologies and flexibility for states, which should be able to choose from a range of alternatives from the clean power mix most appropriate for their needs. A CES will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create opportunities for job growth, manufacturing and exports and advance the adoption of low-carbon energy sources.

Some have criticized the president’s proposal for being too inclusive—raising concerns that nuclear, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and natural gas should not be defined as clean energy. But, starting with a broad definition could bring divergent voices together to agree on a national policy goal that will enhance our energy and national security.

Industrial efficiency also should be part of this discussion. For example, Congress should consider allowing utilities to meet some portion of a Clean Energy Standard with improvements, such as combined heat and power (CHP or “cogeneration”), which can reduce pollution, enhance competitiveness, create jobs and save money. According to the U.S. Clean Heat and Power Association, CHP systems already in place currently produce nearly eight percent of electric power, saving building owners and industrial facilities more than $5 billion annually in avoided energy costs. CHP is proven technology, which provides clean power and should be a component of a Clean Energy Standard or the subject of a stand-alone national goal.

America can get to an 80 percent CES through innovation and a mix of new and proven technologies that create jobs, limit our dependence on foreign oil and reduce pollution. But, to get there, it will take ambitious leadership from both the administration and Congress.

This opinion by Phyllis Cuttino, Director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, appeared on the National Journal's Energy & Environment Blog in response to Can America Reach Obama's Clean Energy Goal? by Sen. Tom Carper.

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