Energy Policy: no more delay
Leading the renewaBLe energy revoLution
By BRAD CoLLINS
The science is clear. Let’s make Congress pay attention.
The 111th Congress confronts a cold job market and a hot climate.
Over the course of the summer we will watch carbon legislation
come into focus in Washington — and watch carefully we must.
Recent history shows that Congress often puts election politics before
science. We can hope this Congress will do better.
Climate threats grow scarier with each new research report. The
worst-case scenarios are now truly frightening. At the Conference on
World Affairs, held in April at the University of Colorado, no less a figure
than NASA’s Jim Hansen advised we build no new coal-fired plants and
that we close all existing coal plants within 20 years.
At about the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
declared CO and other heat-trapping emissions a threat to public health
and welfare. This sets the stage for major regulations — if Congress can
give science the attention it warrants.
The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) began aggressively promoting carbon emissions reductions in the summer of 2006. During our
annual conference that year, we focused on the nexus between climate science and renewable
energy and energy efficiency. The ASES report “Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.” (
available at ases.org/climatechange) demonstrated that 57 percent of U.S. carbon emissions can be
replaced by energy efficiency, and 43 percent by renewables.
Once we understand where we need to go, the challenge is to devise the best way to get
there. This is where we are today. Our mission at ASES is to speed the transition to a sustainable
How best to do that? ASES considers that the energy price signal is the best private-sector
mechanism to drive investment in renewable energy technologies and to reduce consumption.
Only through a long-term price signal will energy investors back utility-scale solar plants, wind
farms and geothermal plants in place of long-lived fossil fuel electric generation plants. Only
through a price signal will consumers adopt efficiency measures and distributed energy solutions.
Those measures will replace today’s largest source of emissions with renewable sources.
ASES’ Policy Committee recommends the establishment of an upstream cap-and-auction
system to regulate CO and other greenhouse gases at the point where they first enter the energy
economy. The auction system needs to be economy-wide. We provide for offsetting practices
(which can receive incentives), but these are not permitted to dilute the overall hard cap on carbon. For more on the ASES carbon policy, see David Hill’s article, “Carbon Regulation: What’s
the Most Effective Path?” on page 36.
The science is clear on the challenge presented by carbon emissions, and the solution is
known. Now is the time to commit to massive reductions in atmospheric carbon emissions.
It is our duty to counter the business-as-usual crowd who would divert us from achieving the
new energy economy. We dispute the notion that carbon reduction will harm our economy.
Our studies have shown two-and-a-half times as many jobs in RE/EE per dollar of revenue as
in fossil fuel.
Fossil-fuel addicts claim that carbon pricing will burden lower wage earners most. We point
out that policies are devised every day to protect the least among us. They claim that carbon
pricing will cripple utility companies, but the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 provided robust tax incentives for utility owners to adopt renewable energy electric generation.
The stay-the-course, don’t-trust-science, it-can’t-be-done folks need to get out of the way.
Here comes change. We will not be denied a low-carbon future. ST
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Brad Collins is the
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Copyright © 2009 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.