What happens if Congress fails to pass a energy bill in 2010? Even without a federal carbon policy, the United States could move to a dramatically cleaner and healthier approach to meeting its electrical power needs, according to a new report from the think tank Civil Society Institute.
The report, prepared by Synapse Energy Economics Inc., outlines a "Transition Scenario" that would step up energy efficiency and the use of clean, renewable energy, allowing the country to retire all coal-fired power plants and over a quarter of existing nuclear reactors. The overall cost of the plan would involve modest near-term costs over a "business as usual" scenario, but result in savings by 2040, according to the report.
The electric power industry in the U.S. is at a crossroads, said Pam Solo, president of Civil Society Institute. "There is an opportunity today to make the transition without multi-billion dollar gambles on unproven carbon capture, sequestration technology and risky nuclear loan-guarantee bailouts. What elected officials and other Americans need to understand is that, even if the climate bill falters, we can still make the move to dramatically cleaner and healthier electricity generation."
According to Bruce Biewald, president of Synapse Energy Economics, "the focus of the study is on what resources would be likely to replace coal-fired and nuclear generation, where those resources either are or need to be located, and what this resource mix would cost relative to a 'business as usual' energy future."
Using only existing technology and making no assumption or adjustment for the passage of federal carbon legislation and related price setting, the report develops a scenario for 2010-2050 that would provide the following benefits:
- •Aggressive investments in more efficient technologies in every sector could reduce electricity use by 15% from today's requirements, or over 40% from a business as usual scenario.
- •The U.S. could feasibly retire the entire fleet of coal-fired plants and build no new coal-fired generation. Tens of billions could be saved in avoided pollution control costs at the coal-fired plants retired between 2010 and 2020. At the same time, we could retire 28% of the nation's nuclear capacity.
- •Electric sector CO2 emissions could fall by 82% relative to predicted 2010 levels. NOX emissions could fall by 60% and SO2 emissions by 97%. Electric sector mercury emissions can be virtually eliminated.
- •Renewable energy, including wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, would increase throughout the nation, eventually providing half of the nation's electricity requirements. Natural gas use in the electric sector would grow more slowly than under business as usual, leaving more gas for clean cars and other uses.
- •The scenario would cost an estimated $10 billion per year more than the current estimated cost in 2020, but it would save $5 billion annually by 2040 and $13 billion annually by 2050. For a typical residential consumer purchasing about 900 kWh per month, the 2020 cost increase would amount to about $2.20 per month. By 2040, the same customer would be saving about $1.50 per month and nearly $4.00 per month by 2050.
The report also looks at the regional consequences of moving away from current operations in the U.S. electric sector. Under the report's "Transition Scenario," the country's massive Midwestern wind resource is tapped and used primarily in the Midwest. The South Central wind resource is developed and used there and in the Southeast. The Northeast and California import less power from other regions than they do today, and the Northwest continues to export electricity from its low-cost renewable resources. Solar energy is developed across the country, especially in the Southwest, and the country's biomass and geothermal resources are also developed. Aggressive energy efficiency efforts allow renewable energy to be developed with much less new transmission infrastructure than some other studies have envisioned.
The report is available at http://www.civilsocietyinstitute.org/