New Report Recognizes RGGI Is a Catalyst for Clean Energy

This blog post was written with my colleague Bruce Ho.

Rapid innovation in clean energy technologies, new business models, and smart climate policy frameworks, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), are enabling us to reach our climate goals cost-effectively and should continue to do so over the coming decades. That’s according to Power Switch – a new independent report – and a great accompanying video out today from the consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates. The report, which focuses on the Northeast, recognizes RGGI in particular as a key current and future “catalyst” for clean energy innovation in a region that “has long been a laboratory for innovative energy policies and technologies.”

As we’ve written about before, RGGI is a pioneering, nine-state, cap-and-invest program that’s cutting carbon pollution from power plants in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Since it launched in 2009, the program has helped cut pollution by more than 37 percent, all while creating tens of thousands of good, local jobs, saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars on their energy bills, and significantly improving our public health.  

RGGI’s benefits are well documented and widely recognized. As Sue Tierney, former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy and current chair of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s external advisory board, says in today’s video, “RGGI is clearly a demonstration proof that we can have a reliable electric system that has a cap on the amount of carbon that can be emitted. It works economically. It works technically. It’s a great model.” Gordon van Welie, CEO of New England’s wholesale electricity grid operator, similarly calls RGGI “the most efficient way” for the states to cut carbon pollution.

But while RGGI has been enormously successful, more still needs to be done to achieve the RGGI states’ scientifically backed climate goals of cutting economy-wide greenhouse gas emission by 40 percent by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050. That’s why the RGGI states are currently undertaking a scheduled program review, with the aim of setting additional carbon reduction targets out to 2030. (The current program reduces emissions only through 2020.)

Luckily, there’s plenty of evidence that with the right policy framework – a stronger RGGI – we can achieve the emissions cuts we need to protect our climate while continuing to grow our economy. In fact, according to an analysis by Synapse Energy Economics, continuing to cut emissions in RGGI at the rate of 5 percent per year between 2021 and 2030 – the level NRDC and numerous others, including large companies like Gap, Ikea, and Staples, support – could help save consumers $25.7 billion on their energy bills through 2030 and support 58,400 new jobs a year. That’s big money and a lot of jobs.

Today’s report builds on this story by further explaining how rapid innovation in clean energy, supported by RGGI and other forward-thinking policies, will make the cuts we need to protect our climate both more achievable and economically beneficial.

As energy consultant Peter Kelly-Detweiler says in the video, “If you set the rules up”—a stronger RGGI—“and there’s a long-enough runway that people can see”—clear targets out to 2030—then the clean energy and carbon reductions we want “will happen.” Former Maryland Public Utilities Commissioner Kelly Speakes-Backman seconds Kelly-Detweiler’s call for clear, longer term emissions targets under RGGI: “2030 is a fantastic timeline to look at because it’s far enough out that you can change the way you do business.”

A power shift is coming, M.J. Bradley’s new report tells us. As technologies improve, as consumers demand cleaner energy, as new business models are pioneered and implemented, change will come. By capitalizing on the innovative, successful, market-based RGGI program – making it stronger and more ambitious in the Northeast and using its lessons to build similar programs in other states and regions under the federal Clean Power Plan – we can finally achieve the clean energy power shift that we need.

About the Authors

Jackson Morris

Director, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program
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The pioneering Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has dramatically cut carbon pollution, saved consumers hundreds of millions of dollars on energy, and created tens of thousands of new jobs. Now, as the RGGI states chart a course for post-2020, complementary clean energy policies in RGGI states can enable the program to cost-effectively and ambitiously cut carbon pollution by as much as 5 percent a year.

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