“By investing in American energy production and innovative technologies, the U.S. is on a path toward energy security, lower gas and home energy prices and we are leading the fight on global climate.” - Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va), August 2022
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report in which they concluded that to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change, the world would need to prevent the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels. One of the primary ways to achieve that goal, the report continued, would be to reduce global carbon emissions, ultimately reaching a state of carbon neutrality, or ‘net-zero’ carbon. To that end President Biden pledged to reduce economy-wide emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and to get the US energy sector itself completely carbon neutral by 2035. Currently 60.8% of US energy comes from fossil fuels, 18.9% comes from nuclear, and the last 20.1 comes from renewable sources. Growing that last segment to where it can power the entire country and doing it in less than 15 years time is, in the eyes of natural resource and energy experts, a challenging but doable proposition.
The biggest challenges currently lie in three areas. The first is simply a lack of renewable infrastructure. Per the World Resources Institute, the US will need to triple its current renewable output by 2035 to meet the administration’s target. That will require an average annual build rate of 60-70 gigawatt hours (GWh)- double the record setting 35GWh build rate in 2021. The second major obstacle to be overcome is intermittence, the fact that the three biggest sources of renewables, wind, solar, and hydropower cannot be scaled up and down like the fuel of conventional power plants but vary in the short and long term based on natural weather patterns. Per the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there is enough overlap between these three systems to stably provide 80% of the country’s power needs, but the question of how to produce the remaining 20% is fraught with controversy. Finally, there is the issue of cost. Not the cost of renewables themselves, which have already become cost-competitive with fossil fuels, but of decommissioning existing fossil fuel plants. A 2017 study by Resources for Our Future found that the average cost of decommissioning a coal plant cost between $117,000 to $446,000 per megawatt hour (one one-thousandth of a GWh). Additionally, costs associated with meeting cleanup regulations can run as high as $40 billion over 10 years. Therefore even if renewables are cheaper on the face, until the cost of operating the plants becomes unsustainable, providers may be reluctant to take their existing operations offline.
Policy solutions to address these challenges are multiplying. The biggest recent effort comes in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill which includes $280 billion dollars in clean energy tax credits and is designed to accelerate the transition to renewables across the economy. The bill also includes incentives for nuclear energy, a controversial power source, but one which proponents argue can provide a carbon-free answer to the variability question, and one which won’t necessitate the production of environmentally costly batteries on a mass scale. Even before Federal action, some states were already working towards green transitions. California, with an Energy Commission that has been incentivizing renewables for years, reached a record 95% of total energy usage from renewables for a few minutes in 2020. Even traditionally oil-reliant states are taking action. Oklahoma, long known for its oil fields, generated 42% of its electricity from wind in 2020 and has projects underway to bring an additional 11 GWh of solar and storage online over the next several years.
Criticism of such efforts largely comes from right-of-center outlets and legislators who argue the state is taking too heavy a hand in energy policy, and who tend to prioritize energy independence over carbon neutrality. Republican lawmakers for example recently unveiled a climate proposal they claim would streamline development of new renewable and fossil fuel sources. With renewables’ growing cost effectiveness, they contend their approach will, with the help of market forces, reach similar emissions outcomes as Democratic proposals but do so with out the bureaucratic waste they contend is a hallmark of large federal programs. Their proposal would also reverse drilling bans on Federal lands, a move which they argue will secure American energy independence in the short term, allowing more breathing room for the country as it moves to a green energy future.
This symposium will offer policymakers, energy providers, climate specialists, academics, and other stakeholders from across the public and private sectors an opportunity discuss America’s energy future. It will be a chance to assess the state of America’s green energy transition both from a national and global perspective, and it will provide an opportunity to examine how individual states and even individual communities are taking it upon themselves to work towards carbon neutrality. Above all, it will be a forum to exchange ideas and perspectives on a way forward for energy in the 21st century.
Assess the state of the US green energy transition with an eye towards evaluating federal, state, and local policies in light of the Administration’s 2035 energy goal.
Assess the effectiveness of green energy subsidies in light of both energy transition timelines as well as the falling market price of renewables
Discuss steps states can take to encourage a transition away from fossil fuel plants and towards renewables.
Examine what other states can take away from Texas, Washington, California, Iowa, and Oregon- the nation’s top five producers of renewable energy in Q1 2022
Evaluate the pros and cons of various strategies for providing stable power.
Discuss the challenges associated with decommissioning legacy power plants and assess strategies policymakers can take to incentivize their closure.
Share best practices local communities can take to reduce their carbon footprint.
Evaluate the long-term impacts of a carbon neutral power grid on consumer energy prices and on American energy independence.
Federal Energy Authorities
State Energy Authorities
Land Use Experts
Renewable Energy Advocates
Green Transition Managers
Climate Change Planning Director
Renewable Energy Engineers
Renewable Energy Financial Analysts
Senior Program Managers
Nonprofit and advocacy organizations
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