If you follow mainstream climate and energy reporting, you would think that as a renewable energy reporter, I would be all over the arguments being made this week in the legal challenge to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) by the criminally deluded leaders of 27 states and whatever assorted coal industry super villains are behind this.
This belief that the case over the CPP is really important rests on a few assumptions. The first is that the CPP, as the cornerstone to U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement, is a meaningful and a bold plan to confront emissions. The second is that the Paris Agreement itself is meaningful and a bold plan to confront emissions.
The problem here is that the first of these two assumptions is clearly false, and the second is highly questionable at best.
Climate Change is an extremely urgent issue, and CPP would be a great plan if it had any urgency to its timeline. However, it does not. The first compliance period starts in 2022 – six years from now.
In solar and wind years, that’s an eternity. I started covering solar six year ago, and the largest solar PV project we had online was something like 25 megawatts. California’s residential solar installers alone do that in around a week these days.
Six years from now solar and batteries will be the way we do power, because it will be so cheap that no-one will think about any serious future for fossil fuels.
This fact alone makes CPP nearly meaningless, except as a sort of ideological proxy war between Liberals, the Democratic Party, and Earnest Believers in Science on one side and Republicans, anti-Federalists, and Angry Rural White Men Over 60 who believe that Fox News has the straight scoop.
Saying such a thing – that CPP is nearly meaningless – may be considered treason by one side of this debate, particularly the Neil deGrasse Tyson fan-club and Very Smart People in the Liberal media. Therefore I present to you the opinion of Nathan Serota, who analyzes the U.S. solar market for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which also makes him one of the Very Smart People. The difference between him and the others is that Nathan actually studies solar markets for a living and knows what he is talking about.
Sadly, this is nothing new. EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases under the Obama Administration has been historic, but in the details it has also been pretty much gutless. This has not stopped the American right from pillorying Obama and the EPA for federal overreach, murdering the babies of coal miners in their cradles, and not liking grits.
The conflict over weak EPA regulations would not be amusing were it not for the fact that ideological crusades by both sides of the culture war is what much of this country is engaged in instead of pushing for real, meaningful action to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuels.
This is not to say that the Obama Administration has been ineffective, or that federal policy is a waste of time. The DOE Loan Guarantee program in the stimulus basically jump-started large-scale solar in this country (for which Obama was never forgiven), and the deal that led to the extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar and the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind (which was opposed by climate activists), were both highly meaningful.
There are also very important struggles over renewable energy policy going on at the state level in the United States. In fact, after the extension of the ITC & PTC, this is the where the real battleground for our children’s future lies.
So pardon me if I sit out this bizarre proxy war.