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Two Big Steps Toward Meeting Our Climate Pledge

Policy Analysis
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A House committee is expected to approve legislation today to require the Trump administration to produce a plan to meet America’s international commitments to fighting climate change.  

The bill, H.R. 9, would require the administration to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 by more than 25 percent from 2005 levels. That would lower GHG emissions to about 5.4 billion metric tons, compared to about 6.6 billion metric tons currently.

Two steps would get us close to meeting our commitments. They involve not only dramatically increasing our use of renewable energy to generate electricity but also replacing conventional cars and trucks with electric vehicles.  

First, if we replaced half of the electricity produced by coal with electricity produced with wind and solar power, we could cut GHG emissions by 600 million metric tons by 2025.

Mothballing half of the coal-burning electricity plants would eliminate 122,000 megawatts of energy production – enough to power about five million homes for a year. But the electricity produced by these plants could be easily replaced by wind and solar – and create more green jobs in the process.

Renewable energy already accounts for 18 percent of electricity production, twice as much as just a decade ago. Thanks to a revolution in batteries to store electricity, wind and solar production have increased dramatically in the past few years.

Solar capacity has almost tripled, from 19,000 megawatts in 2015 to 48,000 megawatts in 2018. Wind production has also almost tripled since 2009, from 35,000 megawatts to more than 90,000 megawatts expected this year.

In other words, we could shut down half of our coal-fired plants if we doubled existing wind and solar production.

In the past 10 years, rapid growth in wind and solar has lowered the cost of solar by almost 90 percent and wind by nearly 70 percent. The potential capacity of wind and solar is huge: more than 14 million megawatts – or 14 times as much electricity as we currently produce.

Second, we could rapidly expand the use of electric vehicles.

Gasoline cars and trucks are responsible for almost one-fifth of U.S. GHG emissions. So replacing 50 million cars and trucks with electric vehicles by 2025 would reduce GHG emissions by more than 500 million metric tons.

The good news is that sales of electric vehicles are surging. EV sales grew more than 80 percent last year and as battery prices continue to fall, they are expected to cost less than conventional cars by the middle of next decade. EVs already cost far less to operate: A 43-mile trip in an EV costs about $1, or $3 less than the same trip in a gasoline-powered car or truck.

In combination, replacing half of our coal-fired plants with wind and solar and rapidly expanding the use of electric vehicles would reduce our emissions by more than 1 billion metric tons. Those actions would also create millions of green jobs.

There are now three times as many jobs in renewable energy as in coal, nuclear and natural gas. Making a rapid transition to more wind and solar, while also expanding the production of EVs, would create even more jobs, including high-paying manufacturing jobs.

There are many more steps we can take to reduce GHG emissions, many of which were included in the Obama administration’s 2015 plan. By contrast, the Trump administration has reversed rules to limit emissions and make vehicles and buildings more efficient.

Congress is right to demand a plan from the current administration. The U.S. is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the only nation that has not committed to reducing GHG emissions.

But Congress should not stop with H.R. 9. Congress should also invest in renewable energy production, fight efforts to bail out dirty energy sources like coal, and provide new incentives for electric vehicles and charging stations.

 

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