02-19-2017  10:42 pm      •     

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission director Jon Wellinghoff recently stated that the U.S. may not need any new coal or nuclear power plants. Due to our tremendous renewable energy potential, the rising challenge of global warming, and the high cost of new conventional plants, I think he's right.
The U.S. can meet future electricity demand by deploying efficiency and renewable energy.
The potential for renewable energy is great. The U.S. has more wind and solar potential than all its oil, gas and coal reserves. Our current total electrical generating capacity of 1,000 GW is dwarfed by the combination of onshore and offshore wind potential of ~3,000 GW cited by Interior Secretary Salazar. And solar power's potential is many times greater than that if we deploy panels on less than 1 percent of our land. Add to that the potential of geothermal, hydropower, and biomass — and fossil fuels begin to look like a dinosaur of the 20th century that will soon be replaced.
The price of new renewable energy is decreasing dramatically and may soon be lower than new fossil fuel power supply. For instance, solar photovoltaic modules have fallen from $20 per watt in the early 1980s to below $3 per watt today. Between 2004 and 2008, white-hot demand growth that outpaced solar supply growth prevented prices from falling. But now that supply has caught up with demand, 2009 prices continue downward.
Fossil fuels have powered our rising standard of living since the late 1800s. But now that we recognize large current and future costs from greenhouse gas pollution, we must cap such pollution and lower our emissions. We successfully lowered lead emissions from gasoline in the 1980s and sulfur dioxide from coal smokestacks in the 1990s. A similar cap (with emissions trading) to lower carbon emissions is now being considered in Congress. Such a framework gives renewable energy the opportunity to grow in electrical market share from 10 percent today to over 20 percent by 2020.
The renewables market is poised to meet all new electricity demand. Of renewables' 10 percent share of electricity, hydro contributes the most — followed by wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar. Renewable capacity represented over half of new capacity in 2008 (with wind power growing a record 8.5 GW and solar .36 GW). By 2011, renewable capacity growth can provide the ~15 GW per year our grid needs without adding expensive new coal or nuclear power plants. By the mid-2010s, renewable electricity can replace retiring old coal power plants, especially in the wind-rich Midwest and the solar-rich Southwest.
U.S. electricity demand growth is slowing and may soon stagnate even as population continues to climb. From 9 percent per year in the 1950s, demand growth has fallen each decade to ~7 percent, 4.2 percent, 2.6 percent, 2.3 percent, and then ~1 percent so far in the 2000s. Today's recession erased the need for new electric capacity recently as electricity use fell almost 1 percent in 2008 and is projected to fall much further in 2009. Electricity demand is not expected to recover to 2007 levels until 2011.
This tough economic period is an opportunity to build a more secure economy by spurring our recovery through efficiency and renewables. As long as the recent stimulus bill is executed well, we can hold demand constant through living more efficiently and implementing smarter grid design.
Deploying efficiency and renewables can support millions of green jobs in our country and strengthen our economy as we free ourselves from huge foreign oil bills. Becoming the global leader in low-carbon energy and efficiency is a path to prosperity in a world focused on reducing emissions in the decades ahead.
We maintained economic health in the past by leading innovations of the 20th century. A domestic market was always crucial for success, such as U.S. computer demand driving Silicon Valley's advances. Now, a domestic market for efficiency and renewable energy will help us regain our economic footing.
Jon Wellinghoff is right. Our country has the renewable resources to take advantage of falling costs for wind and solar power. The time is ripe to aggressively match this deployment with efficient usage, simultaneously saving ratepayers thousands and helping preserve a stable global climate.

Markatos-Soriano is the director of Sustainable Energy Transition (www.setenergy.org), a nonprofit dedicated to helping campuses and communities throughout the country move to a climate-friendly energy future based on efficiency and renewables.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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