President Obama set a goal of generating 80% of US electricity from clean energy sources by 2035 in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, but renewable energy advocates were dismayed by his inclusion of clean coal and nuclear power.
“Some folks want wind and solar,” Obama said. “Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.”
Obama’s stated goal falls in line with a shift in the discussion in Washington, DC from a pure renewable electricity standard to a clean energy standard (CES). But his willingness to include non-renewable sources drew swift opposition.
“I do not agree with the president,” said Scott Sklar, president of the Stella Group, a Virginia-based clean energy consultancy. “The president is bending to the realities of politics.”
Many parties in the renewable energy and energy efficiency communities would ask Congress to vote against a CES that includes coal, nuclear power and natural gas from hydraulic fracturing operations, commonly known as fracking, even if the targets for those sources were relatively low, Sklar said.
“President Obama’s vision for clean energy is commendable, but we need to commit to truly clean energy like solar, wind and energy efficiency, which don’t threaten our public health or our environment,” said Nathan Willcox, federal global warming programme director for Environment America. “So-called ‘clean coal’ and nuclear power in fact create more pollution and put our environment and our health at risk.”
While it is understandable that Obama has political considerations to address, the real health problems posed by these technologies should not be ignored, said Alan Lockwood, professor of nuclear medicine and neurology, University of Buffalo. The most important step is to retire as many older coal-producing facilities as possible, he added.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as clean coal,” Lockwood said. “Coal is dirty at every step. It’s really a myth.”
Obama’s electric vehicle target welcomed
There was more praise for Obama’s goal of putting a million electric vehicles on the road in the US by 2015, particularly because he asked Congress to help pay for this goal by eliminating billions in taxpayer dollars given to oil companies.
“It is true that fossil fuels receive five times more in federal incentives than renewable energy,” said Denise Bode, American Wind Energy Association. “We don’t believe that is in line with Americans’ current priorities.”
“We are looking forward to driving our cars on wind,” Bode continued. “With plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles headed for showrooms, that has finally become a reality."
Unlike fossil fuels, the renewable energy sector also suffers from the inability to predict whether incentives will be extended every year or two, she said.
“It’s time to reorient the tax code to predictable policies that allow energy sources that will never run out, to thrive instead of keeping renewable energy on a constant one-year footing,” Bode added.
By. Gloria Gonzalez