President Obama in his State of the Union address reiterated the moral imperative to turn the tide on dangerous climate change. To do it, he presented a challenge to the nation to double energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources.
The question now is: Is that doable?
The answer: Not only is that more than achievable, it is critical to the fight against climate change and essential to economic recovery and job creation.
As President Obama pointed out, the growth in renewable energy in recent years, as well as energy efficiency improvements we’ve been making in our buildings, homes and our automobiles, have created tens of thousands of jobs.
Search the database of clean energy job announcements complied by NRDC affiliate Environmental Entrepreneurs, and you’ll see just about every state in the country has benefitted from the boom in renewable energy and efficiency, even during a recession. Clean energy jobs know no political bounds either: E2’s analysis shows that clean energy job announcements are almost evenly split between Republican and Democratic congressional districts.
So if members of Congress care about job growth in their communities, they ought to be supporting, not attacking, clean energy policies like the president’s in the days and weeks ahead.
We can do this. Thanks to smart policies and efficiency standards, the nation has already doubled its energy productivity over the last four decades without trying too hard. Additional investments in building improvements, energy efficient vehicles and industrial equipment, and energy-saving transportation systems can help us do it again – and help build our economy along the way.
Just last week, the Alliance to Save Energy’s bipartisan Commission on National Efficiency Policy, of which NRDC is a member, released a plan that would create 1.3 million jobs, increase economic output by 2 percent, cut carbon pollution by a third, and result in more than $1,000 in savings for every U.S. household by 2030.
It’s not just NRDC and other advocacy groups saying this. A McKinsey and Co. study shows investments in building and equipment efficiency alone could cut U.S. energy consumption by 23 percent over the next decade, save customers nearly $700 billion, and create up to 900,000 direct jobs (plus countless more when consumers spend their savings elsewhere). Other studies show similar potential for huge electricity reductions.
NRDC’s David Goldstein estimates aggressive efficiency improvements could drive domestic energy consumption down by more than 80 percent within four decades, and the $10 trillion in associated savings is likely a conservative underestimate. He also believes that increasing energy productivity is crucial to jumpstarting our economy.
Congress and the federal government can get us there
Congress should pass a legislative package with multiple elements to commercialize the next generation of efficiency technologies and building practices through targeted incentives.
This package could include new and improved incentives for energy-efficient commercial and multi-family buildings; performance-based tax credits for retrofits of existing homes; non-business energy efficient property tax credits; and the credit for builders of new energy-efficient homes. In addition, there is an opportunity to enhance the Department of Energy’s ability to raise the floor for the minimum energy efficiency of products and buildings, and drive greater implementation of energy efficiency by utilities as the lowest-cost energy resource.
Congress also should take action to limit carbon pollution
The president also vowed that if a divided Congress will not take the necessary steps to put a firm limit on carbon pollution, he would employ the power of the presidency to do so – which a new poll done for NRDC shows a majority of Americans would support.
Mindful that 40 percent of carbon emissions come from existing power plants, NRDC has offered one way for the president to use his authority to significantly cut carbon emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels by the end of this decade. Increasing energy efficiency to avoid the need for dirty power plants is a cornerstone of the NRDC proposal that also will create thousands of clean energy jobs from making homes and buildings more efficient. It addition, it will protect people from asthma attacks and heart ailments while saving families as much as $700 a year in electricity bills.
In his plan posted on the White House web site, the president also called for congressional action to make the renewable energy Production Tax Credit permanent and refundable.
We know what that could do for the wind industry
According to a report issued last week, the United States now boasts more than 60,000 megawatts of wind capacity—double the amount from four years ago—and enough clean power to run 15 million homes. Along the way, the wind industry has created more than 75,000 jobs across the country, from turbine factories in Ohio, to blade makers in Florida, to installation companies in Oregon.
Extension of incentives like the Production Tax Credit are essential for the continued growth of that industry, as well as the solar and geothermal industries, which will continue to create tens of thousands of good clean energy jobs.
Additional ways to support renewable energy could include improved renewables project financing, cash-based grants to spur new development, and funding new innovation programs.
NRDC looks forward to working with the White House and Congress to meet the goals President Obama set forth—and more.
As the president pointed out in the State of the Union, our children and our future depend on it.