Introducing a Clean Energy Standard (CES) requiring utilities to source more power from renewables could allow the Biden administration to decarbonize the electricity sector, a new study says.1
Renewables and nuclear currently account for 19.8% and 19.7%, respectively, of all the electricity produced in the U.S. but the Biden administration wants to increase that combined share to 80% by 2030 and completely decarbonize electricity generation by 2035.2
Environmentalists, progressive Democrats, and energy experts have long argued that a CES could pave the way for a clean energy revolution.3
A new report by Clean Energy Futures, a research group that includes scientists from Syracuse University, Harvard, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, proposes introducing a CES mandating utilities to gradually increase the amount of carbon-free energy they provide until they reach 80% in 2030.1 This so-called “80x30 CES” would slash carbon emissions from the power sector by roughly 80% from 2005 levels.1
The researchers estimate that the 80x30 CES would bring $637 billion worth of benefits but would cost $342 billion.1
“Achieving the Biden Administration’s clean electricity goal through a CES would have modest costs and large benefits,” they say.
Under the proposed 80x30 CES, most coal power plants would shut down over the next decade, but natural gas-fired plants would continue to play an important role in energy generation. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas-fired plants would start decreasing thanks to carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
Nuclear and hydropower generation would remain constant over the next three decades, while solar and wind energy would become mainstream, which would require huge investments.
To achieve these goals, the federal government should “redirect” private investments from fossil fuels to solar and wind and allocate its own funds to new clean energy projects “to ensure that all regions of the country receive economic, air quality, and health benefits,” the report says.
Under the proposed 80x30 CES, the government would reward “utilities with federal payments for achieving clean energy goals” and ensure that wholesale electricity prices are at or below today’s levels. Officials would also penalize utilities that fail to meet certain green energy generation milestones.
But perhaps more importantly, this scheme would slash air pollution, preventing an estimated 317,500 premature deaths between now and 2050. These benefits, the report says, could be worth an estimated $1.13 trillion and would be “immediate, widespread, and substantial.”
The researchers note that electricity generation is a leading source of toxic air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter.1 Sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions are directly linked to coal power generation, which would shrink to “nearly zero” over the next decade under the proposed 80x30 CES.
Air pollution can exacerbate or cause a wide variety of ailments, including asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses, and heart attacks.
“Air quality improvements are projected to occur for all racial and ethnic groups. Nationally, non-Hispanic Black people are estimated to experience the largest reductions in average population-weighted exposure in absolute terms,” the report says.
The White House initially sought to include a CES in the infrastructure bill but the policy was scrapped amid opposition from Republicans. But now the Biden administration plans to introduce a CES in a partisan budget reconciliation package, which will allow Democrats to get it passed by a simple majority vote in the Senate.
Such an effort will require support from every single Democratic Senator and will likely be opposed by Republicans.
White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy recently said that a CES and tax credits for renewable energy companies will be included in the package.
“We need to tell the utility world, our power system, where they need to go,” McCarthy told a Punchbowl News event in late June. A CES “provides a level of certainty for long-term investments that this country needs and we are going to move these pieces together.”
In a memo sent to White House officials, McCarthy wrote that a CES will cut electricity bills, increase competition, decrease pollution, incentivize more efficient use of existing infrastructure and create jobs.
The White House hopes to get the budget reconciliation package approved by the end of July but, according to Reuters, the process will likely drag until at least September.