The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, chaired by six Democratic members of Congress, recently issued a white paper on actions that the Department of Energy (DOE) should take to help implement the President's Climate Action Plan.
In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama called for measures to mitigate climate change, promising that in the absence of Congressional action he would do what he could with executive actions alone. On June 25, he unveiled his Climate Action Plan in a speech at Georgetown University, which included new rules from the EPA to limit carbon pollution at power plants, and a series of improvements to the nation's infrastructure to conserve energy and expand the use of renewable energy sources.
The white paper suggested that the DOE undertake a number of steps, including the following:
- Energy efficiency standards should be strengthened.
- Deployment of low-carbon energy technologies should be accelerated.
- The use of energy-savings performance contracts should be expanded.
- Reforms should be encouraged in state building codes and utility rate structures.
- New transmission lines should be built to maximize renewable energy resources.
- The environmental trade-offs in the export of liquid natural gas should be determined.
Now that efficiency standards have been set for lightbulbs, an event not without political controversy, the task force is asking the DOE to set standards for metal halide lamps, external power supplies, battery chargers, walk-in freezers, ice makers, commercial refrigeration equipment, and commercial pumps and fans. Also, they would like to see energy efficiency standards promulgated for manufactured housing, which is long overdue, as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required them to be set by 2011. Poorly insulated manufactured housing costs their low-income residents dearly in utility bills.
Altogether, the implementation of all these standards is expected to save 14 quadrillion BTUs by 2035, not to mention billions of dollars in energy costs.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a loan guarantee program to support development of reduced-carbon energy technologies. The DOE currently has authority for $34 billion in guarantees, however, $20.5 billion of the total is slated for nuclear projects for which there is little market interest in the wake of the continuing Fukushima disaster. The DOE has recently issued a draft solicitation for "advanced fossil energy projects that avoid, reduce or sequester carbon." Projects are already under review for only $2 billion in loan guarantees available for renewable energy.
Energy-savings performance contracts allow independent contractors to make improvements to federal buildings at little or no cost to the government, while the contractors are paid out of the energy savings made. Recently, the White House led by example, adding photovoltaic panels to generate some of its power. President Jimmy Carter put the original solar panels on the White House, but these were removed during the Reagan Administration.
Building codes and utility rate structures are set at the state and local levels. Recently, however, the president proposed a program called Race to the Top for Energy Efficiency and Grid Modernization, which would award grants to state and local governments for progressive policies. The DOE would establish and implement the program assuming that Congress appropriates the funds. As there is no guarantee that Congress will do so, the task force recommends that the DOE develop alternative strategies to aid states in strengthening building codes and reforming utility rate structures to encourage energy savings.
There are four federal power-marketing administrations (PMAs) that market hydroelectric power from federally owned dams. The white paper suggests that these PMAs build transmission lines within their territories to increase access to other renewable power sources, such as wind and solar. In addition, the PMAs should develop rate designs that encourage energy efficiency, rapid demand response and "preparation for electric vehicle deployment." Finally, the task force asked the DOE to determine what the climate change implications would be in the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to other countries, displacing coal as a source of power.
Technological innovations, such as fracking and lateral drilling, have resulted in a vast expansion of the supply of natural gas available in the United States. There have been 20 applications to export natural gas to other countries. LNG terminals take billions of dollars and years to build and require federal approval, as natural gas is a national resource. An important issue is the escape of methane as the result of drilling and transportation. A recent study of emissions in Uintah County, Utah, home to 2800 natural gas wells, concluded that 6-12 percent of daily production actually leaked skyward. At that rate, it is questionable whether natural gas is really an improvement upon coal with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.