President Barack Obama (D) issued a Presidential Memorandum on Dec. 5, directing the federal government and all its entities to source 20 percent of their energy from Renewable energy like solar power, wind and other sources by the end of the decade. The move was hailed by conservation organizations as well as renewable energy advocates.
“In order to create a clean energy economy that will increase our Nation's prosperity, promote energy security, combat climate change, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the Federal Government must lead by example,” Obama wrote in the directive. “Today I am establishing new goals for renewable energy as well as new energy-management practices.…This memorandum establishes a new target for federal use of renewable energy that challenges agencies to more than double their renewable electricity consumption.”
The President was praised for the action by conservation organizations. “The Sierra Club and our 2.1 million members and supporters thank President Obama for his continued leadership on climate action,” wrote Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. He added that energy sources like solar and wind are providing millions of jobs and could provide all of the U.S.’s energy needs. “The President’s announcement today brings us one step closer to that potential, and a healthier, more secure future for our children. Congress should take a cue from the President and renew critical clean energy tax credits now.”
Similarly, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Director of Renewable Energy Policy Nathaniel Greene approved of the measure. “These standards are important. The federal steps, and similar measures that the states are taking, will drive about half of the growth in this sector by 2020,” he said. “But Congress must also act, and one big step would be to extend current federal tax credits to maintain the job growth already created in the wind, solar and energy-efficiency industries.” Greene also observed that the federal government is now sourcing more than 7 percent of its energy needs from renewables.
“This is a landmark moment in our nation’s history.…From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation’s future prosperity and way of life more than climate change,” said Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President Rhone Resch. “We applaud President Obama for standing firm and following through on a key commitment he made as part of his Climate Action Plan.” The President introduced the Climate Action Plan earlier this year.
Resch also noted that U.S. now has more than 10 gigawatts of solar installed, but cautioned that more support is needed. “Moving forward we also encourage the Administration to develop a modern procurement process that allows solar to compete evenly with fossil fuels,” he said. “Federal agencies should have the authority to adopt long-term power purchase agreements in order to maximize savings for U.S. taxpayers. Today’s outdated system discourages the same power purchases for federal facilities that successful companies like Walmart, Costco and Apple use to save money by going solar.”
The memorandum caps a number of events this week aimed at cutting the U.S.’s carbon emissions and other pollution even as the President recovers from criticism over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The announcement builds on three key events related to clean energy and energy efficiency announced this week.
The announcements included launching an energy efficiency loan program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that will provide up to $250 million to rural electric cooperatives to lend to their business and residential customers to install renewable energy and make energy efficiency improvements. The Departments of Energy (DOE) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced they are expanding the President’s Better Buildings Challenge, which improves efficiency of both commercial buildings and multi-family homes. And the DOE and Environmental Protection Agency issued the 2014 Fuel Economy Guide, providing top 10 lists and information about vehicles’ energy efficiency.
The most important announcement for solar was the USDA’s new program. While many utilities serving more urban areas of the U.S. have offered renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives, rural co-ops have often been excluded from having to offer solar rebates or incentives to their customers.
”Energy efficiency retrofitting can shrink home energy use by 40 percent, saving money for consumers and helping rural utilities manage their electric load more efficiently," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Ultimately reducing energy use helps pump capital back into rural communities. This program is designed to meet the unique needs of consumers and businesses to encourage energy efficiency retrofitting projects across rural America.”
The USDA also pointed to a March 2012 Rockefeller Foundation report regarding energy efficiency retrofits. That report found that a $279 billion investment could yield more than $1 trillion in energy savings over 10 years, the USDA said.