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Air Quality PM Trudeau of Canada, US President Obama, Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto (ecowatch.com)

Published on June 29th, 2016 | by Sandy Dechert


N. America Pledges 50% Electricity From Zero-Carbon Sources By 2025

June 29th, 2016 by  

PM Trudeau of Canada, US President Obama, Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto (ecowatch.com)Wednesday’s the day for a strong 50% zero-carbon electricity pledge from the “Three Amigos” — US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “We find ourselves now at a moment where the alignment in terms of policy goals and focus on clean energy between our three countries is stronger than it has been in decades,” says White House climate adviser Brian Deese.

Meeting at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, the three heads of state are agreeing to have this continent produce 50% of its power by 2025 from cleaner (non-emitting, or zero-carbon) sources, the White House announced Monday. The change will come from strengthening the roles of hydropower, wind, solar, and energy efficiency, and using nuclear plants and carbon capture and storage technologies as appropriate over the interval. It’s been made possible by convergence of views on energy and climate change and resolution/abolition of Canada’s requirement of visas for incoming Mexican nationals.

The current collective zero-carbon power level stands at about 37%. The goal requires a steep increase in clean power and energy efficiency over the next 9 years. Says Deese, “We believe that this is an aggressive goal, but for all three countries one that we believe is achievable continentwide, and it’s supported by domestic policies in all three countries.”

All three countries made Nationally Determined Contributions pledges last year at the UN’s world climate meeting (COP21) in Paris. The United States, now producing about 75% of the total power, must make the greatest contribution in clean power and energy efficiency over the next 9 years.

How can the agreement normalize a currently uneven North American power grid?

North American continent (allthingsd.com)The Clean Power Plan, which regulates US fossil-fired power plants, is the major North American impetus toward the emissions cuts pledged in 2015. However, the US Supreme Court delayed its implementation earlier this year.

This state-based low-carbon program for existing stationary generating sources and federal rules on new, modified, and reconstructed stationary sources will help the United States do its part to reach the North American goal. So will tax credits for renewable power plants and any grid improvements, including a stronger focus by all three countries on transmission line infrastructure.

The United States drew approximately 32% of its power last year from non-fossil sources, including nuclear. The US Energy Information Administration has projected that, by 2025, the zero-carbon share of power will climb to 41%. Breaking this figure up, renewables are projected to increase to 23% by 2025, and nuclear power is expected to decrease to 18% as some scheduled and likely decommissionings occur. These figures do not include pledged state and regional actions to decarbonize.

“Just meeting the state RPSs [renewable portfolio standards] will bring a huge amount of renewables into the system,” says Amlan Saha, a policy adviser who analyzes the Clean Power Plan for M.J. Bradley & Associates. Deese says that it will not be necessary for the United States itself to hit the 50% mark to achieve the regional target.

The United States got only 13% of its electricity from non-nuclear zero-carbon sources like wind, solar, and hydropower last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nuclear power, a large segment of existing carbon-free electricity in the US, represents about 20% of the nation’s total power mix. However, some US nuclear plants are demanding subsidies and are at risk of shutting down in the face of cheaper natural gas. The administration has reportedly taken that into consideration in devising the goals.

→ Recommended: Renewables = 99% Of New Electricity Capacity In Q1 2016 In USA

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Theoretically, fossil-fueled plants using carbon capture and sequestration could also count toward the 50% target, although that technology is rarely used today, largely untested, and evaluated to be very expensive.

Canada already gets 63% of its electricity from clean power (mainly hydro) and 18% from nuclear. It has the continent’s greenest grid. However, Canada produces less than 600 terawatt-hours of electricity, compared to 4,000 terawatt-hours from the US.

Mexico’s current clean energy numbers are even smaller. It produces about 20% of its power from zero-carbon energy. Officials there have already pledged to reach 35% by 2024. Mexico has the continent’s smallest grid.

Scientific American quotes Clare Demerse of Clean Energy Canada as remarking that Canada stands to win economically from North America’s commitment to green energy:

“Canada has a resource that is hopefully going to be in growing demand on the North American continent. [After a decade of clashing with the United States on TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline,] Now we have a really productive and constructive conversation continentally because the conversation has changed to clean energy.”

Other important developments expected from the summit

  • Flags of US, Mexico, Canada (unh.edu)Mexico will join a pledge made earlier this year by the US and Canada to reduce methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector by 40% to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025.
  • All three are also expected to reduce short-lived greenhouse gases like black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons.
  • New agreements will be signed to make it easier and cheaper to trade and transmit clean energy across the continent than current agreements do.
  • Biodiversity support, security issues, and other concerns to the continent will also occupy part of the talks.

Also note that China has recently announced that it will generate 25% of its electricity from wind power by 2030.

Possible effects of the US presidential election

Needless to say, the zero-carbon pledge from President Obama would largely be up to the next US president to fulfill. According to The Hill:

“Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has committed to sweeping clean energy goals, including to have half of the country’s electricity be clean by 2030, while Republican Donald Trump has promised to greatly expand the production and use of fossil fuels and roll back environmental regulations.”

Nongovernment organizations react

Last week, the World Resources Institute, Center for American Progress, and Canadian and Mexican NGOs jointly released a report with recommendations for a North American climate strategy. It presented recommendations for a coordinated climate plan that includes a continent-wide pledge to reduce methane emissions, coordinate leadership in international forums, and consider the cost of carbon in long-term decisionmaking. Says Sam Adams, WRI’s US Director about Wednesday’s announcements:

“Sharing a common vision for the future, these leaders recognize the importance of providing economic stability and greater climate security for the long term.”

From the World Wildlife Fund’s Lou Leonard, Senior Vice President, Climate & Energy:

“There’s a big gap between what leaders pledged in Paris and the emissions cuts needed to fend off the most dire impacts of climate change. The United States needs to continue to drive international cooperation to accelerate emissions reductions and help developing countries leapfrog dirtier pathways. Today’s announcements help move us closer to closing that gap.”

350.org Executive Director May Boeve issued the following statement:

“Let’s be clear: declaring ambitious goals like these, or the ones world governments made in Paris, is not the same as taking real action that scientists say is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of global warming.

The White House can work towards that by building on President Obama’s federal coal moratorium… and halt[ing] all new fossil fuel development on public lands. Taking offshore drilling in the Gulf and the Arctic off the table are essential no-brainers if this White House is serious about delivering action on climate that matches its top-line goals and rhetoric.”

Many will agree with Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, who called the 50% zero-carbon electricity move a “turning point” — “It is heartening to see leaders and countries coming together to find common solutions to shared environmental challenges, and realizing the economic opportunities that partnerships can provide.”

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She’s currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year’s COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an “indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity.”

  • jburt56

    About 30% to be provided by non-nuclear. The relative share of wind, solar and hydro must treble from 10% to 30%. Assuming little growth in hydro the current 4% share of solar and wind would need to grow 6 fold to 24%.

    • Bob_Wallace

      20% won’t come from nuclear. The US is now at about 19% and dropping. Canada is at 15% and Mexico at 4%.

  • Before we applaud too loudly, it is important to keep in mind that moving from 13% to 23% renewable electricity from 2015 to 2025 basically means doing what we are already doing. According to US EIA data, between 2014 and 2015, US renewable electricity (excluding conventional hydroelectric) grew from 288,749 310,499, which is a 7.53% annual growth rate. If we compound that growth rate till 2025 and assume that conventional hydroelectric and total electricity generation will be the same in 2025 as in 2015, then we will have 893,053 GWh of renewables (including conventional hydroelectric) in 2025 out of a total of 4,099,522, which means 21.8% renewable. So basically all Obama is promising 1.2% better than what we would anyway, if we followed present trends. This is no way to address the climate crisis.

    Taken as a whole, the Obama administration has been an environmental disaster. Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy turned the US into the biggest oil and gas producer in the world. According to the US Energy Information Administration, US crude oil production increased from 1,830,416 to 3,442,205 thousands of barrels and US natural gas production increased from 25,636,257 to 32,894,683 million cubic feet between 2008 and 2015. Only in US coal production was there some improvement, decreasing from 1,171,808,669 to 1,000,048,758 short tons between 2008 and 2014. The Obama administration could have prevented most of the fracking, which lead to the growth in oil and gas production by enforcing the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, but instead his State Department promoted fracking around the globe. With the Clean Water Act, Obama could have also stopped most of the mountain top removal, but he only took half steps to rein in the destruction of Appalachian mountains, which proved largely ineffectual.

    Petroleum consumption in the US has stayed flat during the Obama administration, while the decrease in coal was matched by an increase in natural gas. While gas is much better than coal in terms of mercury, sulfur, and black carbon emissions, recent research suggests that it probably emits as much greenhouse gases as coal once the leaking methane is factored into the equation. Given that most of the recent increase in gas and oil comes from fracking, which leaks more methane than conventional sources, it is highly questionable whether the greenhouse gas emissions from the US have reduced during the Obama administration.

    While Obama’s Clean Power Plan is laudatory in shutting down some of the dirtiest coal plants, it will mostly clean up the power industry by moving these plants from coal to natural gas. It promises to generate 30% renewable electricity by 2030. If we use the same compound growth rate as we currently have for renewables, we will get to 28.6% renewable electricity in 2030, so Obama basically promised 1.4% more than what we are on track to accomplish anyway.

    If we analyze what Hillary Clinton is promising to do with solar, we find that it is basically a continuation of current solar growth rates, so Clinton is not promising any real change compared to Obama. This is in marked contrast to Bernie Sanders who envisioned a radically different energy policy to tackle climate change. Of course a Trump presidency would be a nightmare, but that doesn’t mean that we should be content with what Obama and Clinton are promising, which is more of the same.

    • eveee

      That’s a pretty good summary of how politics has been dragging behind public demand for policy change. The politics are bad, with Clinton delegates killing all dem platform support on climate change against Sanders delegates push. That’s a sad commentary on today’s events. Obama has slowly ceded to the reality of oil (spills) and so on, but still clings to the chimeric dream of declining nuclear hopes.

  • Jason hm

    I assume this is predicated on flat or reducing electricity demand or substantially increasing carbon emitting electricity cost to subsidize renewable because 8 years is incredible aggressive timetable to shift 15% of the the total generation capacity even with little to no net consumption increase.

    • Are Hansen

      Yes, it is a big job, but not at all impossible. The transition is accelerating, largely thanx to the steep drop in costs; PV and wind will be substantially cheaper in 2025

    • Matt

      “The change will come from … , and energy efficiency”
      There is a lot of low hanging fruit, and enough real world examples that prove it. So the “energy efficiency” and “building retro-fitting” is picking up. With EIA saying 41% by 2025 for USA, you know it will be higher. And then you blend in Canada’s. Assume we both save 5% from now. TWh each becomes.
      Total C+U would be (600+4000)*0.95 = 4370 (10% would drop it to 4140)
      So would need half 2070-2185TWh
      Already have green of 600*61%+4000*32% = 1646 so just need 424-539TWh.
      Now to make math easy assume only wind, and small 2MW turbines at 40%cap. One turbine = 365*24*.4*2 = 7008MWh = 7GWh
      So need 605-770 of those turbines. Say 100/year and you even have room to spare. Of course USA wind cap for new farms is higher, and trend it to large than 2MW, and oh yes we will be doing solar also.
      Does not sound so hard now, does it? Yes, I left Mexico out because I’m lasy, but for a 10 minutes sanity check, I think it says that it is doable.

  • Adrian

    FWIW, renewables (incl large hydro) met 61% of US residential demand in April. Commercial.and industrial demand are each larger, unfortunately.

    Derived from EIA’s Electric Monthly June report…

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Notice the only projection, 41% by 2025, came from the EIA.

    Maybe the EIA projects so very badly, or outright lies, so that presidents can look good when they say they’ll hit much higher goals. Do the politicians have much more accurate sources that tell them nothing needs to be done to hit 50% by 2025?

    • Frank
      • Adrian

        I wonder how many times Peabody will declare bankruptcy before they give up. The count so far, is one…

      • Ivor O’Connor

        This is another industry that knowingly harms the health of the country. Why don’t we fine them for 15 billion dollars like we did with VW?

        • sault

          They have bought off regulators and the lawmakers that write the regulations so effectively that a lot of their polluting activities are completely legal. And they spend so much more on Lawyers than cleaning up their mess that even when they do get busted, polluters usually just face a slap on the wrist.

          VW was dumb enough to try and sneak their emissions problems under the RADAR of the regulators. And even then, they got away with it for 6 years, so maybe the bribes were working in this case too. VW just didn’t count on a small university team uncovering their defeat devices and blowing the whole scandal wide open. We got lucky on this one since the team wasn’t even looking for defeat devices to begin with, but they did uncover some funky data they had the wherewithal to look deeper into and find evidence of emissions test cheating.

      • John Norris

        Thanks for the link Frank. Legal expert for hire. Only $0.5M per year. “What do you you want me to say”? (/sarc). Love to know what Obama thinks…

      • John Norris

        Peabody: trying to avoid pension obligations while giving big payouts to top brass:


    • Jason hm

      It will only hit 50% on that timetable if we fall into a major prolonged recession.

      • sault

        Current growth rates in wind and solar power will easily get us to 50% by then. Efficiency improvements can more than make up for nuclear plant closings in the intervening years. What’s funny is if we have a prolonged recession, Republicans will gain power in Congress and may even take the presidency this year or in 2020 depending on the timing of the start of this hypothetical recession. In this case, it will be impossible to hit 50% in time.

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