President Obama addressed renewable energy briefly and early on in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night and unveiled two new clean power ideas. First off, Obama set a new U.S. clean energy challenge that said by 2035, “80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.” Secondly, Obama said he would ask Congress “to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”
Clean power wasn’t the highlight of his speech — reducing the deficit was — but the new goals were a nice surprise. However, while they sound solid enough in passing, they aren’t exactly actionable paths forward (what legislation exactly will deliver 80 percent clean power?). But for an administration, which has used the stimulus package to invest billions in green technology — but which has failed to pass an energy bill and carbon legislation and won’t be able to do so any time soon — the new goals were about as much as it could put forward.
So let’s look at the clean power goal first. Well, according to projections by the U.S. Energy Information Association, in 2035 coal will still make up 44 percent of electricity generation in the U.S. As John Hofmeister, the former President of Shell Oil, noted at a conference last week, the U.S. consumes 1,200 train car loads of coal every hour, which is one train car load of coal every three seconds, currently producing 49 percent of our electrons every day. And that’s not going away anytime soon without more specific aggressive legislation.
Without the specifics, Obama’s 80 percent clean power goal is rather like those put forth by some pundits and other politicians. Al Gore famously called for 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years (this was in 2008). And Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced in late 2008, a proposal for almost all of U.S. electricity to come from renewables by 2030 and almost all of new car sales by 2030 to be plug-ins. No one really thinks these goals will be met, but the idea is to set some sort of aggressive goal to stimulate industry.
Obama’s goal was slightly different from others in that he named natural gas and clean coal as options to meet that goal. Obama said:
Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
Now, for the end to oil subsidy goal. That one’s more doable, and more action oriented. Though, eliminating oil subsidies entirely will still be incredibly difficult in the 2011 political climate, so don’t expect this one to happen anytime soon, either.
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