The White House is confident its embattled climate plan, still making its way through the courts, will help it meet a 50-percent clean energy goal announced Wednesday by President Obama and leaders from Mexico and Canada.
The U.S., Mexico and Canada agreed to a North American goal of producing 50 percent of the continent's electricity from clean, low-emissions resources, but places a heavy emphasis on renewables and energy efficiency to reach the milestone by 2025.
"We announce a historic goal for North America to strive to achieve 50 percent clean power generation by 2025," their joint statement said. "We will accomplish this goal through clean energy development and deployment, clean energy innovation and energy efficiency."
The White House says the U.S. produces around 32 percent of its electricity from clean energy resources, including nuclear power that comprises 19 percent of the nation's power supply. But it says the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, combined with landmark tax credits for wind and solar, will begin transitioning the nation to a grid that is predominantly renewable energy beginning in the next decade.
The Clean Power Plan directs states by 2030 to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by one third, which will incenitvize the renewable energy push. "Scaling up clean energy through aggressive domestic initiatives and policies, including ... the U.S. Clean Power Plan and five-year extension of production and investment tax credits," will be key to achieving the 50-percent by 2025 goal, according to the joint statement issued Wednesday.
The statement doesn't say that EPA's Clean Power Plan has been placed on hold by the Supreme Court until a major court fight is resolved over the regulation. The dozens of states, industry and trade groups fighting the plan in federal appeals court oppose the plan, and many legal scholars believe it won't be easy for the administration to emerge from the courts unscathed.
In addition, pro-coal groups argue that the White House is being disingenuous when it says all forms of clean energy will be promoted under the 50-percent goal. They say EPA regulations effectively bar the development of cleaner forms of coal-fired power plants.
"Today's joint commitment to generate 50 percent of North America's electricity via low- or zero-carbon sources by 2025 not surprisingly raises more questions than it does answers," said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. "The administration says one of the ways it will meet its goal is by utilizing energy from power plants with [carbon capture and storage (CCS)]. The problem with that assertion, however, is that there are no scalable plants anywhere in the world with CCS and none will ever be built in this country thanks to regulations promulgated by this administration."
Under the EPA's climate rules, any new coal plant must deploy CCS, which is an non-commercial technology that is too expensive to deploy. The coal industry refers the EPA requirement as a "defacto ban" on coal plants. Other more efficient coal plants that have far lower emissions are not allowed to be built without the cost-prohibitive carbon capture technology.
"So the question is, just where will all this low- or zero-carbon energy come from? Certainly not rainbows and unicorns which one would have to pockets full of to meet these pie in-the-sky commitments," says Sheehan. Most of the U.S.'s energy comes from natural gas, coal and nuclear, and a sliver of production comes from solar and wind.
Despite the challenges, however, today's announcement seeks to demonstrate a growing need for the three North American powers to increase their collaboration on energy, and strive to create a single North American electric grid system.
One of the key reasons for doing so is to meet the goals laid out in last December's United Nations climate change deal agreed to in Paris. The new clean energy goal will help ensure the Paris deal is enacted sooner rather than later, according to the joint statement.
"The Paris Agreement was a turning point for our planet, representing unprecedented accord on the urgent need to take action to combat climate change through innovation and deployment of low-carbon solutions," the joint statement reads. "North America has the capacity, resources and the moral imperative to show strong leadership building on the Paris Agreement and promoting its early entry into force."