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Governors Join Together to Create a Clean Energy Future PDF Print E-mail
By Alison Loomis | Thursday, 17 April 2008

In order to foster collective and meaningful state leadership on clean energy issues, the National Governors Association (NGA) has committed to a new initiative that aims to promote, accelerate, and dispel myths about a clean energy future.

NGA's "Securing a Clean Energy Future" (SCEF) initiative, was introduced in September 2007 by NGA Chairman, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), and now guided by a task force of eight governors from the following states: Minnesota, Kansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

"It is a four-pronged approach, with energy conservation being the first step," says Governor Pawlenty.

"The states are so-called laboratories of democracy, where they can … try new things before it is rolled out across the whole country. That's certainly happening in the area of clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions." Different states have different strategies, depending on their own needs and resources, but Pawlenty sees "a great consensus about making progress" toward energy efficiency and "Americanizing" climate change activism.

Furthermore, with states creating their own emissions standards, Pawlenty said, there will be a push for the federal government to come up with a nationwide energy policy to address global warming. For instance, if enough states act to reduce GHG emissions, "it becomes a de facto national policy," he said.

In support of the SCEF Initiative, the US Department of Energy will provide $610,000 in support for this initiative . "The Bush Administration shares the NGA's sense of urgency about increasing our nation's energy security, and we are eager to jointly advance bold energy policies at the state level," Secretary Bodman said.  "States provide the necessary and critical link to ensuring clean, reliable and affordable supplies of energy and the Energy Department challenges local governments to take similar action."

Although the initiative's definition of clean energy—which includes the controversial sources of clean coal and nuclear—is opposed by environmental groups, primarily with the scale of which its promoted, very few disagree that collective state leadership on climate change activism, particularly with energy efficiency, is a very critical step.  

Over the course of this year, Governor Pawlenty's clean energy initiative will identify and implement approaches that:

-- Use our energy resources better through efficiency and conservation;
-- Promote non-petroleum based fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel;
-- Take reasonable steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
-- Accelerate research and development of advanced, clean energy technologies.

At a Dec. 13th summit, the second of three planned summits, Governor Pawlenty joined Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to produce a publication called 'A Call to Action.'

This report declares America's current energy path unacceptable because of escalating economic risk and serious environmental consequences. The report compels the nation's governors to act now to solve America's energy challenges, and highlights the opportunities and challenges governors face when developing and using alternative transportation fuels, infrastructure and vehicles in their states.

"Changing our behavior is a difficult proposition," says Pawlenty. "With our growing dependence on imported oil, our rising greenhouse gas emissions, and projections that business as usual will only lead us down an unsustainable path, it is understandable that one might be pessimistic or paralyzed by inaction."

However, "Governors have the unique ability to engage consumers, businesses, and the broader public to change our energy future."

"The Call to Action shows us there are reasons for hope and optimism. There are numerous policies at hand that can change the projections, transform our energy portfolio, and realize the promise of clean energy."

Governors Refute "Four Energy Myths"
The report also aims to dispel myths associated with increasing alternative energy sources, breaking our oil addiction, meeting surging electricity demand, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "For too long myths and hearsay have prevented meaningful action on these issues," said Gov. Schweitzer. "But governors are taking action. I'm proud to be here today with my colleagues to continue our work addressing our nation's shared energy challenges."

Myth #1: Alternative Energy is more Expensive Energy. In fact, the report says, "In a carbon-constrained future, clean energy will be increasingly cost-competitive. As state and federal policymakers move to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, clean alternative sources will become cost-competitive."

Myth #2: America Cannot Break its Oil Addiction. In fact, the report says, "While transportation accounts for approximately two-thirds of our oil use, several promising fuels are making inroads." The report recognizes that corn-based ethanol has limited potential, because food shouldn't be put in tanks.  Biodiesel, advanced petroleum diesel, and plug-in hybrids are better in the short term; while hydrogen fuel cells and cellulosic ethanol produced from straw and plant waste hold the greatest promise for the future, according to the report.

Myth #3: We Need Hundreds of New Power Plants. In fact, we don't need new power plants because energy efficiency is a more cost-effective way to reduce demand, the report concludes: "In the electric power sector the source that has the greatest potential to offset demand for coal, natural gas, and petroleum is not actually a power source at all, but rather
efficiency and conservation."

Energy Efficiency
As proof that economies can grow without increasing consumption, the report notes that, "California has held per-person consumption steady since the 1970s." The Governors also also cite a recent study by McKinsey Global Institute which found "The United States could use existing technologies to halt the growth in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions," by using our energy more effectively. And we could cut that growth in half by taking steps that "would save consumers money."

While generally dismissing wind and solar power as expensive, intermittent, and not widely available, the report does note that in time renewables have a significant advantage because "their fuel (as in the case of solar, wind, and geothermal energy) is often free or less expensive than traditional sources." The Governors also note that wind, which now provides less than 1 percent of total electricity in the US, could scale "up to 6 percent by 2020 at a cost-competitive rate."

But "Biomass," the report concludes, "has the greatest potential of the three to provide significant electric power generation. They cite a study by the National Renewable Energy
Laboratory (NREL) which examined the potential for biomass to meet electricity demand, and found that the Minnesota "has enough energy crops and residual biomass to meet up to 99 percent of electricity consumption (assuming that the most efficient conversion technologies are used)."

The bottom line, says the report, is that while demand for electricity is growing, building hundreds of new fossil fuel plants is not our only option. We can keep consumption flat, and meet a significant portion of demand with efficiency and renewable energy. "Additionally, advanced coal plants with the capacity to sequester carbon dioxide and new nuclear generation could help meet demand while emitting limited or no additional greenhouse gases."

Myth #4: "Climate change is inevitable, and we lack the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to make a difference." Instead, the report says, "Although some warming is inevitable, that is not an excuse for inaction or hesitation…we still have a chance to avoid the worst consequences of climate change by acting now to reduce emissions through currently available technology."

Greening the Capitols

The gubernatorial task force has also announced private partnerships with Discovery Communications, and more recently with Wal-Mart.  For instance, under the "Greening the Capitols" partnership, Wal-Mart will send experts to as many as 20 state capitol complexes throughout 2008 and 2009 with the goal of identifying energy efficiency improvements that will provide a return on investment within five years.

NGA also has officially released a new report from the SCEF Initiative, Greener Fuels, Greener Vehicles: A State Resource Guide. The new report provides an overview of the economic and environmental implications of an oil-dependent transportation sector and looks at state policy tools that can encourage greener transportation such as financial incentives, rules and mandates, purchasing power and research and demonstration projects.

In addition, the report describes the core barriers preventing wider consumption of alternative fuels and production of alternative vehicles, as well as examples of promising state policies designed to overcome these specific barriers.

Further reports and partnerships are expected in 2008.  For updates, check here.


Photo courtesy of Treehugger.  

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