J. DRAKE HAMILTON: EPA’s rules energize the Heartland while responsibly cutting carbon
ST. PAUL — We have an obligation to protect our children and future generations from the growing costs of climate change by addressing its main cause: carbon pollution from power plants.
Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the carbon pollution in the United States. Carbon pollution fuels climate change, which triggers respiratory disease and asthma attacks and supercharges more frequent, destructive and expensive extreme weather events: floods, droughts, wildfires, and storms.
Right now, we have limits on mercury, arsenic, lead and soot from power plants, but there is no limit on carbon pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency this month announced the Clean Power Plan, common sense standards that close that loophole and require the nation’s power plants to limit carbon pollution for the first time.
We’ll tap into American innovation to protect the health of our communities and develop clean energy solutions that will power the 21st century.
The Clean Power Plan is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It recognizes that every state is different, has different challenges and will require different solutions. It sets modest goals for carbon pollution reductions for each state that factor in proven approaches for reducing carbon emissions, and it encourages states to design solutions to take advantage of economic growth based on clean energy action.
By law, state plans must reduce emissions, but they also must ensure the electric system remains reliable and that the pollution control options be both cost-effective and currently available. States are likely to first tap into the cheapest, fastest energy: energy efficiency, with its proven track record of cutting carbon at low cost.
Expect to see thousands of new energy efficiency U.S. jobs by 2020, as states ramp up energy efficiency requirements for our homes, appliances, buildings and industry.
Here in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains, expect big growth in zero-carbon wind and solar energy using the massive amounts of those free fuels. The U.S. wind industry already employs more than 75,000 people. The U.S. solar industry already employs more than 140,000 Americans.
The Brookings Institution reports that workers in the clean energy and clean tech sectors earn 13 percent higher pay than do American workers overall.
Wind energy has zero emissions and is the cleanest source of low-cost, utility-scale electricity available today. Innovative companies based in the Midwest are using state-of-the-art wind forecasting tools, system software and equipment technology, which means that wind farms are reliable and extremely effective at capturing every last drop of energy out of the wind.
Minnesota already is proving that switching from coal to renewable energy sources is good for the state and good for the economy. Minnesota currently gets 16 percent of its electricity annually from the wind, and Minnesota’s electric utilities report that wind has lowered customers’ bills.
Thanks to the bipartisan Renewable Energy Standard, Minnesota will get at least 27.5 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2025 — and avoid carbon pollution by a similar percentage, bringing the state well along in meeting its 2030 carbon reduction goals.
Because of Minnesota’s policy action, the wind industry has invested $5.6 billion into the Minnesota economy. Seventeen manufacturing facilities in Minnesota supply the wind industry, and the thousands of jobs in this sector range from manufacturing, service providers such as steel rolling companies for turbine towers, wind technicians, hoteliers, road crews and a variety of other tradesmen and master crafters.
The new carbon standards will encourage large amounts of additional wind development.
Wind power’s costs have dropped 43 percent in just four years. Our neighbor Iowa gets 27 percent of its electricity from the wind today. Many utilities praise wind as their most cost-effective energy source, offering a valuable hedge against rising and volatile fuel prices.
Just a decade ago, wind power made up less than 5 percent of Minnesota and Iowa’s electricity, showing that with market-friendly policy, we can cut carbon quickly. Since the beginning of 2011, the cost of solar panels has dropped more than 60 percent, driving a surge in solar installations nationwide.
The Clean Power Plan gives our states flexibility to create customized solutions. The mix of energy efficiency, wind power and solar energy each state deploys by 2030 to cut carbon will vary, but our children can — and do — expect us by 2030 to spur large amounts of clean energy development to power their future.
Hamilton is science policy director at Fresh Energy, a Minnesota-based nonpartisan, nonprofit clean-energy organization.