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US Government Recommits to Renewable Energy Ramp-up

Today the Obama administration issued an executive order re-establishing one of the proclamations from the climate change plans it issued this summer: significantly boosting the U.S. federal government's support of renewable energy to supply 20 percent of its energy consumption by 2020.

The U.S. federal government's broad climate-change initiatives issued earlier this summer gained a lot of notice for their emphasis on standards for carbon pollution reductions and energy efficiency. They also pressed the Department of Interior (DOI) to expand permitting of renewable energy projects on federal lands. Now the Obama administration is revisiting and reiterating another part of that broad climate plan: expanding the federal government's electricity consumption from renewable sources to 20 percent by 2020, nearly triple the current 7.5 percent. (It adds the window of uncertainty, though, that such a target must be "economically feasible and technically practicable.")

The order maintains the definitions of "renewable energy" as those laid out in Executive Order 13514 circa 2009: solar, wind, biomass, landfill gas, ocean (tidal, wave, current, and thermal), geothermal, municipal solid waste, and new hydroelectric generation capacity from existing projects (increasing their efficiency or adding more capacity).

This 20/2020 renewables mandate prioritizes on-site production or procurement, retaining renewable energy certificates (REC); followed by purchasing the electricity and RECs, and then just purchasing the RECs alone. For on-site projects the government urges a focus on brownfield sites including contaminated lands, landfills, and mines. There's also a plan to add Green Button pilots on federal facilities, coordinating efforts among the DOE, FEMP, and EPA, which will update the Energy Star Portfolio Manager to include building energy usage data using Green Button.

Here's the official roadmap being laid out for federal renewable energy consumption:

  • Fiscal 2015: Not less than 10 percent
  • Fiscal 2016-17: Not less than 15 percent
  • Fiscal 2018-19: Not less than 17.5 percent
  • Fiscal 2020: Not less than 20 percent

Note the U.S. military arms already are under a legal mandate to reach 25 percent renewable energy consumption by 2025, which will amount to 1 GW of new installed capacity each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

What's missing, of course, is any direction or definition on how agencies and federal facilities should build or obtain all this new capacity, what is the overall mix among renewable sources, how much money this effort will save, or how it will be paid for.

Nevertheless, "this is a landmark moment in our nation's history," proclaimed Rhone Resch, president/CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The solar industry is already doing its part, with more than 10 GW of installed capacity and representing nearly all the nation's new electricity generation. He also urged the administration to set up a more modernized procurement process that lets agencies adopt long-term power purchase agreements (PPA).

Nathanael Greene at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) applauds the new standards, but points out that Congress needs to throw its weight behind renewable energy as well, by extending federal tax credits, most notably the PTC.

Back in June the Union of Concerned Scientists' Mike Jacobs suggested those 20/2020 goals shouldn't be too difficult given that many states are already approaching or even exceed that number.

We'll keep updating this story as more details and analysis becomes available.

Lead image: Grass twenty percent, via Shutterstock

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