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Obama Calls for 80% "Clean Energy" by 2035

In an unprecedented move, last night U.S. President Barack Obama put clean energy front and center on the agenda of the American government -- calling for an 80% clean energy target by 2035.

In his yearly State of the Union address to the nation’s lawmakers, Obama said that it is time for America to invest in the energy of the future and stop supporting the energy of the past.  He called on Congress to remove all subsidies for fossil fuels and to reinvest the money saved into clean energy initiatives.

The President said that he hopes America can obtain 80% of its energy from clean sources by 2035, the most aggressive target ever set forth by a president.  While renewable energy supporters were thrilled with the bold target, they were reminded during the speech that Obama’s idea of clean energy is broad: His target includes nuclear energy, clean coal and natural gas, in addition to traditional renewables like wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and hydro.

“Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas,” he said. “To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.”

Here are some reactions from industry leaders:

Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, was in the House chamber for the speech and was happy with the President's call to level the energy playing field. 

“Wind energy can deliver right now on its promise to deliver new electricity to Americans more affordably than any other energy source, if we have a level playing field to compete with the permanent entitlements that fossil fuels have enjoyed for over 90 years,” Bode said.

She was cautiously optimistic about the broad-based “clean energy standard," saying that AWEA looks forward to reviewing the proposal. 

“It is important from a jobs perspective to focus on deploying clean energy sources over the next few years. Wind energy is ready to go now; we don’t need to wait nearly three decades,” she said.

Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association was tweeting during the State of the Union address. He called the President’s agenda for clean energy “ambitious,” and said “solar is ready to do its part to create jobs, innovate and keep U.S. competing.”

Linda Church Ciocci of the National Hydropower Association applauded the President’s bold initiatives and said that hydropower is poised to meet the mandate. 

“With the potential to double its contribution, expanding our hydro resources is key to achieving the President's vision of the future,” she said.  “We strongly support a national standard to expand clean and renewable energy that includes and promotes development of affordable, reliable and available American hydropower.”

A “clean energy standard” that includes nuclear and clean coal is a mistake according to Scott Sklar of The Stella Group, who has written commentaries on the topic on 

I hate to put my professor hat on, but excuse me, how is coal clean? Even if you could sequester carbon, it emits mercury, carcinogens, requires much water, emits other greenhouse gases, leaves us with coal ash waste piles, and drives the blowing-up of our mountain tops ruining waterways and farmland. 

Nuclear energy, with its multi-thousand year wastes, imported uranium, and susceptibility to terrorism is another ploy to re-label non-renewable technologies and ooze them into our brand. This reminds me how the high fructose corn syrup industry has recently relabeled itself the “corn sugar” industry or how the food processing industry is fighting labeling requirements so that consumers might infer that they are “organic.”

Sklar’s advice to lawmakers has been not to accept the dilution of clean energy with nuclear energy and clean coal.

As Congress now buckles down to get to work trying to implement some of the President's policy initiatives, it will no doubt be an interesting debate to watch. The U.S. has failed to pass minimal national clean energy targets, let alone something so aggressive. The likelihood of geting something passed this year is slim.

But with continued Presidential leadership on the issue, the trends continue to move in a positive direction.

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