Jun 02, 2010
By Carrie Traud
America can achieve a coal-free (and nearly nuclear-free) future by 2050, even without a price on carbon. With federal climate legislation stalling in Congress - and giving billions away to the fossil fuel industry - the Civil Society Institute and Synapse Energy Economics investigated the possibility of a clean energy future without climate legislation. The report, "Beyond Business as Usual: Investigating a Coal- and Nuclear-Free Future for America," reveals how, with smart investments and the right incentives, the United States can transition to an energy mix based on efficiency and renewables. while saving money and achieving significant greenhouse gas reductions at the same time.
The report compares "business as usual," which assumes a continued reliance on traditional energy sources, like coal and nuclear, with a transition scenario that phases out those energy sources while phasing in wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. By 2050, the transition scenario has retired all coal-fired power plants and a quarter of nuclear plants. At the same time, while costing more in the short term, America would save $5 billion per year by 2040 and $13 billion by 2050.
The energy and financial savings of the study are conservative, for two reasons. First, the Business as Usual scenario assumes the cost of coal remains relatively flat. Even without a price on carbon, this is unlikely to be the case, as coal becomes increasingly difficult to mine and the supply, particularly in central Appalachia, declines. Second, the study is based on existing renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. It does not account for any new breakthroughs or advances, which could lower the cost and increase the capacity of renewable energy significantly.
The study is useful for Kentucky mainly from a macro-perspective. It does not consider individual states and largely ignores the potential of distributed, small-scale generation potential. It has the southeast region generally relying on imported sources of electricity.
Although the report assumes there is no cap-and-trade or other price on carbon enacted in Congress, we still need smart energy policies that invest in and deploy energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. To read an executive summary or the full report, please visit http://theclean.org.