By the Natural Resources Defense Council
Energy efficiency and renewable power can meet 60 percent of nation’s need for new electric power plants over the next 20 years, according to a November 2000 Department of Energy report ignored by Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.
In an April 30 speech, Cheney said that the U.S. needs to build at least 1,300 electric power plants (averaging 300 megawatts) between now and 2020, “more than one new plant per week.” Cheney downplayed the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources – suggesting that conservation is just “a sign of personal virtue” and that relying on renewables would threaten “our way of life.”
But the Energy Department’s study, Scenarios for a Clean Energy Future, shows that energy efficiency measures could avoid the need for building approximately 610 of the new power plants Cheney calls for, and that renewable power capacity (wind, geothermal, biomass and others) could expand by the equivalent of about 180 plants. The report did anticipate building 570 new high-efficiency, natural gas fired plants, but those would be replace older, dirtier and less efficient plants. Experts in 11 of the Energy Department’s national research laboratories prepared the report, which is available online at: http://www.ornl.gov/ORNL/Energy_Eff/CEF.htm.
Cheney and other Bush administration officials have ignored this report, preferring to base their forecasts on projections by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an arm of the energy department that historically emphasizes energy supply from traditional sources and downplays the potential of energy efficiency and renewables. The EIA projects that demand for electricity will increase by 320,000 megawatts over the next 20 years and that the United States will have to replace existing plants that generate another 70,000 megawatts. Assuming an average power plant size of 300 megawatts, the administration translates this into the need for 1,300 new power plants, fueled mostly by coal and natural gas.
This is a path to higher pollution levels – more unhealthy smog and dangerous fine particles, and more carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.
The Clean Energy Future report shows that the nation has another choice – one that emphasizes increasing the efficiency of our homes, factories and office buildings, and the electricity-using appliances, heating and cooling equipment and other machines in them. The policies examined in the Clean Energy Future report include:
- Limits on all major types of power plant pollution (which President Bush endorsed as a candidate but has rejected as president);
- Stronger efficiency standards for appliances and buildings (Bush is trying to weaken efficiency standards for air conditioners issued by the Clinton administration);
- Establishment of a fund to increase energy efficiency investments by utilities and other energy service companies, supported by a charge on electricity transmission;
- Tax incentives to expand the market for high-efficiency technologies and renewable generation;
- Increased funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development (President Bush has proposed dramatic reductions in these programs in his current budget).
Contrary to Cheney’s claim, this clean and efficient energy path does not require Americans to make sacrifices. Instead, Americans would save more than $30 billion on their electric bills. Power plant emissions that cause smog and dangerous fine particles would decline by more than half from current levels. And power plant emissions of carbon dioxide would be cut by one-third.