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States Must Adopt Clean Energy Standards to Combat Climate Change


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A new joint report by two think tanks cites the importance of nuclear energy sources in combating climate change to urge U.S. states to adopt Clean Energy Standards (CES) which include nuclear power instead of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that don't.

"By putting additional clean energy options on the table, most states would be able to set much more ambitious targets for emissions reduction often doubling their current RPS levels and some unexpected states could rapidly become new leaders in the fight against climate change," notes the report, "Clean Energy Standards: How More States Can Become Climate Leaders," issued June 27 by Third Way and The Breakthrough Institute.

Various states use programs known as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) to require a certain amount of electricity sold within their borders to come from carbon-free renewable sources like wind and solar.
The report points out that states could cut carbon emissions "more affordably, rapidly and reliably" if their policies include a wider set of carbon-free technologies.

"A Clean Energy Standard instead of a Renewable Portfolio Standard would take advantage of renewables as well as existing and new nuclear, carbon capture and storage, waste-to-energy and other technologies in its effort to eliminate carbon from the power sector," the report says.

It adds that nuclear energy the largest carbon-free contributor to the grid is struggling in a marketplace with a glut of low-price natural gas, while not being able to benefit from RPS programs.

"Nuclear has consistently been the backbone of U.S. clean energy, generating the majority of the country's carbon-free power for decades," the report says. "But nuclear's contribution to decarbonization is actually diminishing, as plants struggle to compete with cheap natural gas, and are unable to benefit from policies that boost renewables."

Already, three states New York, Illinois and New Jersey have decided to use zero-emissions credits (ZECs) to compensate their nuclear plants for their carbon-free electricity generation. But many other states continue to use RPSs that exclude nuclear energy. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have an RPS in place, with an average requirement of 26 percent renewables and an average target year of 2022.

As a remedy, the report suggests states change their RPSs to CESs that include nuclear and other carbon-free technologies.

"Opting for this kind of technology-inclusive CES would allow states to set more ambitious targets for carbon-free power, create a backstop against any future growth of dirty fossil fuels, and expand political support to achieve emissions goals more rapidly," the report says.

"Finally, choosing a broader CES would also provide encouraging signals to emerging carbon-free technologies that there is a market available if or when they become commercially viable."

Another advantage of a CES is that it is technology-neutral, meaning that states and utilities can choose the most affordable carbon-free technology instead of being forced to favor renewables. Over the long run, this should help drive down electricity costs.

"There is ample research suggesting that a diverse combination of low-carbon electricity sources, including options like nuclear power, can offer the most efficient and affordable path to drastically cutting emissions in the power sector," the report says.

"A Clean Energy Standard would allow a state to take advantage of the most cost-effective combination of technologies needed to hit the target, and thus have a better chance of overcoming the most challenging political hurdle to climate action."

The report concludes by asking states looking to lead on climate change to consider a CES over an RPS.

"By pursuing clean energy standards instead of the traditional RPS, states can protect more of the carbon-free energy they already have, set more aggressive goals for clean energy growth, and take advantage of the most efficient and cost-effective combination of technologies to get the job done. For any state looking to take more leadership on climate, a CES should be at the top of the ideas list."

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