Last week, some three hundred Houstonians–including several of us from Air Alliance Houston–attended a Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps training opportunity. The Climate Reality Project, founded and headed by former Vice President Al Gore, has a mission “to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society.” The Climate Reality Project continues a campaign begin by Mr. Gore that includes his 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth.”
During a panel discussion moderated by Mr. Gore, an attendee asked a question: What policy changes could we make today to begin to address climate change? Characteristically, Mr. Gore gave a thoughtful, informative answer to the question. He made four policy recommendations, each of which I will discuss in more detail below.
1. Price on carbon.
The most direct way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide–the most prevalent greenhouse gas–is to put a price on them. The so-called “carbon tax” has been unpopular in Congress, with bills regularly introduced without much hope of passage at present. An indirect method, known as “cap and trade” has been used in some places and for certain other pollutants. In a cap and trade system, an overall limit is established for a single pollutant (the “cap”) and emitters of that pollutant trade pollution credits on an exchange (the “trade”), keeping the total number of credits below the limit.
A regional cap-and-trade system is already in place for the power generation section in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. This system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (known as RGGI or “Reggie”) is already working to bring down CO2 emissions in the Northeast.
2. End fossil fuel subsidies.
For a list of countries that includes Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, spending on fossil fuel subsidies is 40 times spending on subsidies for renewable energy. ($80 billion vs. $2 billion. Reference.)
This perverse incentive is preventing us from realizing the true cost of fossil fuel use (including the attendant public health burden) and slowing the transition to energy that is cleaner, greener, and increasingly more affordable. Simply ending fossil fuel subsidies will promote the transition to renewables and generate revenue for the state.
3. Renewable portfolio standards.
A Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) sets a target percentage for renewable energy generation within a given market. Texas passed its first Renewable Portfolio Standard in 1999. Over the years, as renewable generation in Texas exceeded all expectations, the RPS was amended to be more aggressive. Texas eventually shattered even its aspirational target of 10,000 megawatts by 2025.
But Texas has not continued to improve its Renewable Portfolio Standard. Although the state is now the largest generator of wind in the nation, Texas is no longer pushing Texas toward more renewable energy with an aggressive RPS. Rather, even the existing RPS has been challenged with proposed legislation in the last few years.
Recently, at the Paris climate talks, the United States greed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% over 2005 levels by 2025. A nationwide Renewable Portfolio Standard would be one way to ensure that the United States meets this goal.
4. No punitive fees for renewable generation.
Finally, we should end unreasonable or punitive fees and restrictions on renewable electricity generation. In some communities there are restrictions on placing solar panels on residences. There are also restrictions on “smart metering” that would allow an individual to sell extra generated energy back into the grid. Some utilities also place “grid taxes” on solar and other generation projects, ostensibly to pay for maintenance of the electricity grid. These taxes can sometimes be unreasonably high, serving as a punitive measure to reduce the incentive to install solar. Ending these onerous and punitive regulations will smooth the way for renewable energies to compete for their ever-increasing market share.
Worldwide, new renewable energy generation already exceeds that from fossil fuels. If the United States can make a few common sense policy changes now, we will hasten the necessary transition to renewable energy. In way we can do our part in the global effort to combat climate change. These policies listed above won’t be enough by themselves, but they would be a fine start.
The Climate Reality Leaders at Air Alliance Houston can give your organization a presentation about climate change! To book a presentation, call us at 713-528-3779 or email email@example.com.