Are Obama’s Energy Challenge Goals Attainable?

Kate Sheppard, energy and environmental politics writer for Mother Jones, recently answered some questions for Planet Forward about the future of energy efficiency (http://planetforward.org/ask-an-expert/ask-an-expert-kate-sheppard/). Sheppard addressed Obama’s goal to make 80% of the United States’ energy sources “clean energy” by 2035–she not only believes that the goal is attainable, but asserts that we are more than 40% toward the goal already.  It is important to note that most people regard “clean energy” sources to include all renewable sources, such as plant matter, solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and tidal power.  However, Sheppard is willing to use things like nuclear energy and natural gas.  The trouble moving forward is to come to a consensus on what exactly “sustainable energy” and “clean energy” include.

But there are some who think Obama’s plan is not as easy to achieve as Kate thinks.  Jon A. Anda, Vice Chairman and Head of Environmental Markets, UBS Securities, said,

“But the growing “just price carbon” voices in business and NGO’s say why not just sell permits, or tax, the 3 fossil fuels – and use the money to keep tax rates on labor and capital low? Our nearly dormant cleantech capital markets will fund mind-boggling energy innovations once emitting co2 is no longer free. Sure, the Government needs to do a few things directly around the grid, nuclear, and existing subsidies…but, speaking of Sputnick, policy isn’t rocket science. And, by the way, neither is the irreversible fat-tailed risk of climate damage.” (http://energy.nationaljournal.com/2011/01/can-america-reach-obamas-clean.php).

Bruce Pasfield of Alston & Bird has said,

“President Obama’s goal—of 80 percent clean energy by 2035—is an ambitious goal, facing a significant stumbling block—capital. Capital concerns arise in two main areas. First, companies are struggling to find, and justify, funding for clean energy development. In this down economy, companies have difficulty competing for clean energy finance. Generally, without government mandates, subsidies, and rebates, clean energy investments do no generate a profitable rate of return. Enlarging such regulatory tools will spur industry growth. More significantly, redirecting and increasing capital flows to clean energy will bring down costs and increase rates of return.”

Meanwhile, even optimistic organizations have doubts.  Americans for Energy Leadership claims the bar is set “absurdly high”

“Optimistically, hydroelectric capacity could be increased by 50% to top out once and for all at about 6% of current national energy production. Fusion technology is further from being economically-viable than it is from being sufficiently-proven in the lab. And while “clean coal” could eventually do its part to reduce carbon-to-energy ratios, a teeth-laden federal clean energy standard (CES) would be necessary, very soon, to incentivize the expensive technology’s installation in new or existing coal plants.”

Essentially, it is really too early to tell where Obama’s goals will take us.  Having a goal is a step in the right direction and brings us closer to a cleaner future.  It is up to the corporations, politicians and individual citizens of America to promote the idea of clean energy within the domestic economy.  In the words of Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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