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SUPPORT FOR ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

Renewable energy—wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass—provides substantial benefits for our climate, our health, and our economy.

Little to no global warming emissions

Human activity is overloading our atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions, which trap heat, steadily drive up the planet’s temperature, and create significant and harmful impacts on our health, our environment, and our climate.
Electricity production accounts for more than one-third of U.S. global warming emissions, with the majority generated by coal-fired power plants, which produce approximately 25 percent of total U.S. global warming emissions; natural gas-fired power plants produce 6 percent of total emissions. In contrast, most renewable energy sources produce little to no global warming emissions.
According to data aggregated by the International Panel on Climate Change, life-cycle global warming emissions associated with renewable energy—including manufacturing, installation, operation and maintenance, and dismantling and decommissioning—are minimal.
Compared with natural gas, which emits between 0.6 and 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (CO2E/kWh), and coal, which emits between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of CO2E/kWh, wind emits only 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of CO2E/kWh, solar 0.07 to 0.2, geothermal 0.1 to 0.2, and hydroelectric between 0.1 and 0.5. Renewable electricity generation from biomass can have a wide range of global warming emissions depending on the resource and how it is harvested. Sustainably sourced biomass has a low emissions footprint, while unsustainable sources of biomass can generate significant global warming emissions.
Increasing the supply of renewable energy would allow us to replace carbon-intensive energy sources and significantly reduce U.S. global warming emissions. For example, a 2009 UCS analysis found that a 25 percent by 2025 national renewable electricity standard would lower power plant CO2 emissions 277 million metric tons annually by 2025—the equivalent of the annual output from 70 typical (600 MW) new coal plants. In addition, a ground-breaking study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory explored the feasibility and environmental impacts associated with generating 80 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050 and found that global warming emissions from electricity production could be reduced by approximately 81 percent. 

Improved public health and environmental quality

Generating electricity from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels offers significant public health benefits. The air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas plants is linked to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays, and it reduces overall healthcare costs. The aggregate national economic impact associated with these health impacts of fossil fuels is between $361.7 and $886.5 billion, or between 2.5 percent and 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). 
Wind, solar, and hydroelectric systems generate electricity with no associated air pollution emissions. While geothermal and biomass energy systems emit some air pollutants, total air emissions are generally much lower than those of coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.
In addition, wind and solar energy require essentially no water to operate and thus do not pollute water resources or strain supply by competing with agriculture, drinking water systems, or other important water needs. In contrast, fossil fuels can have a significant impact on water resources. For example, both coal mining and natural gas drilling can pollute sources of drinking water. Natural gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) requires large amounts of water and all thermal power plants, including those powered by coal, gas, and oil, withdraw and consume water for cooling. 
Biomass and geothermal power plants, like coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, require water for cooling. In addition, hydroelectric power plants impact river ecosystems both upstream and downstream from the dam. However, NREL’s 80 percent by 2050 renewable energy study, which included biomass and geothermal, found that water withdrawals would decrease 51 percent to 58 percent by 2050 and water consumption would be reduced by 47 percent to 55 percent. 

A vast and inexhaustible energy supply 

Throughout the United States, strong winds, sunny skies, plant residues, heat from the earth, and fast-moving water can each provide a vast and constantly replenished energy resource supply. These diverse sources of renewable energy have the technical potential to provide all the electricity the nation needs many times over.
Estimates of the technical potential of each renewable energy source are based on their overall availability given certain technological and environmental constraints. In 2012, NREL found that together, renewable energy sources have the technical potential to supply 482,247 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This amount is 118 times the amount of electricity the nation currently consumes. However, it is important to note that not all of this technical potential can be tapped due to conflicting land use needs, the higher short-term costs of those resources, constraints on ramping up their use such as limits on transmission capacity, barriers to public acceptance, and other hurdles. 
Today, renewable energy provides only a tiny fraction of its potential electricity output in the United States and worldwide. But numerous studies have repeatedly shown that renewable energy can be rapidly deployed to provide a significant share of future electricity needs, even after accounting for potential constraints. 

Jobs and other economic benefits

Compared with fossil fuel technologies, which are typically mechanized and capital intensive, the renewable energy industry is more labor-intensive. This means that, on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels. Renewable energy already supports thousands of jobs in the United States.
For example, in 2011, the wind energy industry directly employed 75,000 full-time-equivalent employees in a variety of capacities, including manufacturing, project development, construction and turbine installation, operations and maintenance, transportation and logistics, and financial, legal, and consulting services. More than 500 factories in the United States manufacture parts for wind turbines, and the amount of domestically manufactured equipment used in wind turbines has grown dramatically in recent years: from 35 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2011.
Other renewable energy technologies employ even more workers. In 2011, the solar industry employed approximately 100,000 people on a part-time or full-time basis, including jobs in solar installation, manufacturing, and sales; the hydroelectric power industry employed approximately 250,000 people in 2009; and in 2010 the geothermal industry employed 5,200 people. 
Increasing renewable energy has the potential to create still more jobs. In 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists conducted an analysis of the economic benefits of a 25 percent renewable energy standard by 2025; it found that such a policy would create more than three times as many jobs as producing an equivalent amount of electricity from fossil fuels—resulting in a benefit of 202,000 new jobs in 2025.
In addition to the jobs directly created in the renewable energy industry, growth in renewable energy industry creates positive economic “ripple” effects. For example, industries in the renewable energy supply chain will benefit, and unrelated local businesses will benefit from increased household and business incomes.
In addition to creating new jobs, increasing our use of renewable energy offers other important economic development benefits. Local governments collect property and income taxes and other payments from renewable energy project owners. These revenues can help support vital public services, especially in rural communities where projects are often located. Owners of the land on which wind projects are built also often receive lease payments ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per megawatt of installed capacity, as well as payments for power line easements and road rights-of-way. Or they may earn royalties based on the project’s annual revenues. Similarly, farmers and rural landowners can generate new sources of supplemental income by producing feedstocks for biomass power facilities.
UCS analysis found that a 25 by 2025 national renewable electricity standard would stimulate $263.4 billion in new capital investment for renewable energy technologies, $13.5 billion in new landowner income biomass production and/or wind land lease payments, and $11.5 billion in new property tax revenue for local communities.
Renewable energy projects therefore keep money circulating within the local economy, and in most states renewable electricity production would reduce the need to spend money on importing coal and natural gas from other places. Thirty-eight states were net importers of coal in 2008—from other states and, increasingly, other countries: 16 states spent a total of more than $1.8 billion on coal from as far away as Colombia, Venezuela, and Indonesia, and 11 states spent more than $1 billion each on net coal imports. 

Stable energy prices

Renewable energy is providing affordable electricity across the country right now, and can help stabilize energy prices in the future.
The costs of renewable energy technologies have declined steadily, and are projected to drop even more. For example, the average price of a solar panel has dropped almost 60 percent since 2011. The cost of generating electricity from wind dropped more than 20 percent between 2010 and 2012 and more than 80 percent since 1980. In areas with strong wind resources like Texas, wind power can compete directly with fossil fuels on costs. The cost of renewable energy will decline even further as markets mature and companies increasingly take advantage of economies of scale.
While renewable facilities require upfront investments to build, once built they operate at very low cost and, for most technologies, the fuel is free. As a result, renewable energy prices are relatively stable over time. UCS’s analysis of the economic benefits of a 25 percent renewable electricity standard found that such a policy would lead to 4.1 percent lower natural gas prices and 7.6 percent lower electricity prices by 2030.

In contrast, fossil fuel prices can vary dramatically and are prone to substantial price swings. For example, there was a rapid increase in U.S. coal prices due to rising global demand before 2008, then a rapid fall after 2008 when global demands declined. Likewise, natural gas prices have fluctuated greatly since 2000. 
Using more renewable energy can lower the prices of and demand for natural gas and coal by increasing competition and diversifying our energy supplies. An increased reliance on renewable energy can help protect consumers when fossil fuel prices spike. 
In addition, utilities spend millions of dollars on financial instruments to hedge themselves from these fossil fuel price uncertainties. Since hedging costs are not necessary for electricity generated from renewable sources, long-term renewable energy investments can help utilities save money they would otherwise spend to protect their customers from the volatility of fossil fuel prices. 

A more reliable and resilient energy system 

Wind and solar are less prone to large-scale failure because they are distributed and modular. Distributed systems are spread out over a large geographical area, so a severe weather event in one location will not cut off power to an entire region. Modular systems are composed of numerous individual wind turbines or solar arrays. Even if some of the equipment in the system is damaged, the rest can typically continue to operate.
For example, in 2012 Hurricane Sandy damaged fossil fuel-dominated electric generation and distribution systems in New York and New Jersey and left millions of people without power. In contrast, renewable energy projects in the Northeast weathered Hurricane Sandy with minimal damage or disruption. 
The risk of disruptive events will also increase in the future as droughts, heat waves, more intense storms, and increasingly severe wildfires become more frequent due to global warming. Renewable energy sources are more resilient than coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants in the face of these sorts of extreme weather events.
For example, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power depend on large amounts of water for cooling, and limited water availability during a severe drought or heat wave puts electricity generation at risk. Wind and solar photovoltaic systems do not require water to generate electricity, and they can help mitigate risks associated with water scarcity.

NOTABLE QUOTES

  “Despoiling nature to get at the tiny trickle of oil we have left won’t make any significant difference in what we pay at the pump - not now and not ever. And it won’t make our country any less dependent on foreign fuel. Our thirst for oil is bad for national security, bad for our economy and bad for the environment…
The Bush administration’s own Energy Department says that lifting the ban on offshore drilling would have a marginal impact on oil supplies and an ‘insignificant’ impact on prices. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be similarly futile, shaving - at the very most - 4 cents off a gallon of gas by 2026...
America needs to say no to pumping up Big Oil’s profits and yes to forging a new clean energy economy.”
- Natural Resources Defense Council 

“Citizens and community members everywhere are seeking smart solutions to our two biggest problems - the economic downturn and the ecological collapse.
The nation is finally realizing that the solutions to these twin crises are linked. That is because nearly everything that is good for the environment - and practically everything that is good in the fight against global warming - is a job.
Solar panels don’t install themselves. Wind turbines don’t manufacture themselves. Homes and buildings don’t retrofit or weatherize themselves. In our industrial society, trees don’t even PLANT themselves, anymore. Real people must do all of that work...
A well thought out shift to a clean energy economy offers more work, more wealth and better health to disadvantaged communities than does any plausible, business-as-usual scenario...
In a time of economic peril, let us never forget that everything that is required to make America’s economy cleaner, greener and more resilient is a career pathway for someone. Or a business contract. Or an entrepreneurial opportunity. We can power America through this recession by repowering America with clean energy. We can create millions of jobs that will make our people wealthier and the Earth healthier. Let us begin.”
- Van Jones, JD, President of Green For All

“The legislation I am signing today [Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, HR 6] will address our vulnerabilities and our dependence in two important ways. First, it will increase the supply of alternative fuel sources. I proposed an alternative fuel standard earlier this year. This standard would require fuel producers to include a certain amount of alternative fuels in their products. This standard would create new markets for foreign products used to produce these fuels. This standard would increase our energy security by making us less vulnerable to instability--to the instability of oil prices on the world market.
The bill I sign today takes a significant step because it will require fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel in 2022. This is nearly a fivefold increase over current levels. It will help us diversify our energy supplies and reduce our dependence on oil.”
- George W. Bush, MBA

“The subsidies in place allow the [alternative energy] industry to grow and technologies to be developed and mature and drive costs down...
Alternative energy is most developed in countries where government subsidies have been in place for some time. Germany put in place strong incentives in the early part of this decade to encourage demand for solar modules, to encourage installations of wind farms and to support the biofuels industry. Companies in countries with a more progressive alternative energy policy framework therefore developed technology and intellectual property at an earlier state. Other European countries such as Denmark, Spain and Portugal also embraced alternative energy therefore companies tend to be more mature in Europe. However the potential for growth in the U.S. is greater, and once a longer term framework has been put in place, we would expect the U.S. to catch up fast.”
- Edward Guinness, MA, Co-Manager of the Guinness Alternative Energy Fund

”[A] zero-CO2 U.S. economy can be achieved within the next thirty to fifty years without the use of nuclear power...
The U.S. renewable energy resource base is vast and practically untapped. Available wind energy resources in 12 Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states equal about 2.5 times the entire electricity production of the United States... Solar energy resources on just one percent of the area of the United States are about three times as large as wind energy, if production is focused in the high insolation [strong sunlight] areas in the Southwest and West…
With the right combination of technologies, it is likely that even the use of coal can be phased out, along with nuclear electricity.
Complete elimination of CO2 could occur as early as 2040. Elimination of nuclear power could also occur in that time frame.”
- Arjun Makhijani, PhD, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research 

”Biofuels can provide a number of environmental advantages over conventional fossil fuels-most notably a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Since the transportation sector accounts for about a third of total U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide (an abundant GHG), cleaner transportation fuels can play an important role in addressing climate change.
The level of GHG emissions associated with a particular biofuel depends on the energy used in growing and harvesting the feedstock, as well as the energy used to produce the fuel (e.g., coal, natural gas, biomass). On a full fuel-cycle basis, corn ethanol has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52% over petroleum-based fuels. Even better, ethanol made from cellulosic feedstocks, such as switchgrass, or agricultural residues such as corn stover, has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 86%, compared to gasoline.
Biofuels have the added benefit of providing a ‘carbon sink.’ As crops grow to produce the feedstocks for making the biofuel, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
- US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy 

”While the fossil-fuel era is entering its sunset years, a new energy regime is being born that has the potential to remake civilization along radical new lines. Hydrogen is the most basic and ubiquitous element in the universe. It is the stuff of stars and, when properly harnessed and made from renewable sources... it produces no harmful CO2 emissions when burned; the only byproducts are heat and pure water. We are at the dawn of a new economy, using hydrogen as the energy carrier, which will fundamentally change the nature of our financial markets, political and social institutions, just as coal and steam power did at the beginning of the Industrial Age...
People often ask: Why generate electricity twice, first to produce electricity for the process of electrolytic hydrogen and then again to produce electricity and heat in a fuel cell? The reason is that electricity can be stored only in batteries, which are cumbersome to transport and slow to recharge, while hydrogen can be stored at much lower cost...
The hydrogen economy makes possible a vast redistribution of electricity, with far-reaching consequences for society. Today’s centralized, top-down flow of energy, controlled by global oil companies and utilities, can become obsolete. In the new era, every human being with access to renewable energy sources could become a producer as well as a consumer-using so-called ‘distributed generation.’ When millions of end-users connect their fuel cells powered by renewables into local, regional and national publicly owned hydrogen energy webs (HEWs), they can begin to share energy-peer-to-peer-creating a new decentralized form of energy generation and use...”
- Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends


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