Obama: Advancing U.S. clean energy requires more federal support and Congressional action

U.S. energy subsidies in the last 100 years

President Obama confirmed his commitment to clean energy and to environmental and public health protections in his State of the Union Address last night.  And he backed up his words toward advancing renewable energy in the U.S. with real, measurable goals:

Obama: “I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes.”  

What is the energy equivalent of 3 million U.S. homes?  How about meeting all the electricity needs for the entire state of Nevada (with room to spare!) according to latest EIA figures.  On a capacity-basis, the President’s goal equates to around 10 gigawatts (GW) of new renewables on U.S. public lands.  Here's how that compares to the existing installed capacities of these technologies in the U.S:

This work toward achieving 10 GW of new renewables is already underway.  Under Obama, at last count the Department of Interior (DOI) has permitted 6.5 GW of renewable energy including sixteen utility-scale solar plants, four wind projects and seven geothermal plants on U.S. public lands.  That is an impressive achievement.  NRDC has supported a number of these projects through our work.  But much needs to be done to ensure that the federal land management agencies in charge of public lands institute siting and sourcing policies that are “Smart From the Start.”  It’s worth repeating what we mean by this phrase -- stated earlier by my colleague, Johanna Wald:

“To NRDC, responsible renewable energy development means Interior needs to establish a program that is based on guiding solar development to appropriate places – places with high quality solar resources, low natural resource conflicts and the needed infrastructure in place or planned, rather than permitting solar projects – typically thousands of acres in size – to be strewn sporadically across our public lands.”

Smart siting, such as creating zones for solar and wind development is the only way we can meet the ambitious targets laid out by the President. Send a message to the Obama administration in asking them to embrace a Smart from the Start renewables program.  Smart siting and sourcing of homegrown renewable energy is only part of the equation in putting American ingenuity and leadership at work. We need Congress to act, too.

We need Congress to act, too.

Obama: “It was public research dollars, over the course of thirty years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock – reminding us that Government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground. … Our experience with shale gas shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away. Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. … I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.”

The graphic below summarizes what Obama was describing:

Adding up the area below the lines for oil & gas versus renewables, you get this: in the last 60 years, the US fossil fuel industry has received almost $600 billion in federal support, compared with only $74 billion for renewables.

Failure to enact long-term support from the federal government, such as extending the production tax credit for wind, is limiting all of these benefits by making it impossible for renewable energy businesses to plan and grow.  Our elected representatives in Congress need to hear from us that this is super-critical and urgent action that needs to happen now.  

These are real jobs providing power that we invented, we own and it’s never going to run out. The last thing we need to do is put up roadblocks now.