The case for a national clean electricity standard.
Last year, presidential candidate Joe Biden campaigned on a bold climate plan that included cleaning up America’s electricity system by 2035 with a federal Clean Electricity Standard (CES). A national CES, which would require utilities increase their share of renewable and carbon pollution-free electricity, is an old idea. But the ambition — 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 — was new.
By the end of the campaign, whenever he brought up climate change, which he did constantly, Biden had one year on his mind: 2035.
The new deadline reflects the scientific facts and the economic opportunity. The US must cut emissions by about half this decade to give the world a shot at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Doing this will create millions of good-paying jobs in the American clean energy economy. But to make progress at the pace and scale that’s necessary, it’s Congress who must focus on building a 100 percent clean electricity system.
That’s why we released a major report Thursday, with Evergreen Action and Data for Progress, which shows how Congress can get this done. As two policy experts and advocates who have focused on cleaning up the electricity sector, we think we have the best shot yet to get this policy passed this year.
Clean electricity is the backbone of the energy transition — the critical piece that all the other sectors will slot into. Not only will getting to 100 percent clean electricity directly cut more than a quarter of US carbon pollution, it will also enable large parts of our transportation, building, and industrial sectors to run on clean power. Powering as much of these sectors as we can with carbon-free electricity would allow us to cut US emissions 70 to 80 percent. It would, in short, solve a huge chunk of our climate challenge.
The climate demands it. The president campaigned on it. And 81 million Americans voted for it. It’s now time for Congress and the administration to deliver. Here’s how they can do it.
A proven, practical, and popular approach
Over the past three decades, 30 states — red and blue alike — have passed laws requiring electric utilities to use more clean energy. Since 2015, 10 states have adopted 100 percent clean electricity standards, requiring the transition to fully 100 percent carbon-free power. And six more have committed to that goal. State laws are popping up so fast, it’s hard to keep track. Across the country, 170 cities have policies to get to 100 percent clean. As a result, more than one in three Americans already live in a place that’s committed to reaching 100 percent clean power.
We know this approach is technologically possible. Wind, solar, batteries, transmission lines, and other technologies can replace dirty fossil fuels. Google, one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, is aiming for 100 percent clean power, real-time at all its facilities by 2030.
With all this state and local leadership, it’s not surprising that this approach is popular with the public. In independent polls from both Data for Progress and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, run over the past few months, more than two-thirds of voters support the federal government moving the country to 100 percent clean power by 2035.