The Clean Power Plan: The Shift to Renewables is Underway

By Sara Chieffo, LCVEF Vice President, Government Affairs

*This article originally ran in the Bloomberg Government Energy Newsletter

Ten appellate judges. Sixteen attorneys. Seventy appellate briefs, appendices, supplements and corrections. Seven hours of oral arguments.

The Clean Power Plan had its first big day in court. And what a day it was.

The Clean Power Plan stands on a strong legal foundation and is consistent with the law, earlier court precedents and other EPA programs. This commonsense plan is widely supported by the public and a broad coalition is lining up on EPA’s side — ranging from 18 states and 60 municipalities, to tech companies such as Google, to faith communities, to former EPA Administrators, to national security experts such as Madeleine Albright.

While court decisions are notoriously difficult to predict, even some supporting the legal challenge had to acknowledge that EPA had a good day.

In particular, a core element of the challengers’ arguments — that the plan is problematic because it would transform the energy sector without a directive from Congress — was met with doubt from the dais, particularly regarding the plan’s transformative nature. Judge Thomas Griffith, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, noted that a shift from coal to renewables is already underway, saying, “They’re just accelerating that.”

Judge Griffith couldn’t be more right — the clean energy transformation is already underway. In fact, last year NV Energy signed a contract for 100MW of solar at 3.87 cents per kilowatt hour — that was called the “cheapest electricity in the U.S.” Soon after Austin Energy signed onto a similar solar project at under 4 cents per kilowatt hour. Declining prices of renewables and storage technology and cheaper financing for clean-energy projects mean this trend will continue.

(Photo Credit: BlackRockSolar Flickr)

Furthermore, states are already cutting carbon pollution. As it happens, 21 of the 27 states who are challenging the plan are on-track to meet their interim Clean Power Plan goals, given their existing generation, already-planned investments and implementation of existing state policies.

This clean energy transformation is good news as climate change continues to put communities at risk of more frequent and intense extreme weather events, for which taxpayers are stuck footing the bill. Between 2005 and 2015, the government spent $67.7 billion in response to major disasters — severe storms being the most common cause of disaster declarations.

The global momentum and market forces for climate solutions are simply undeniable. The Paris Climate Agreement is entering into force at record speed. The world is shifting away from fossil fuels, and, in the U.S., the Clean Power Plan is a critical part of our way forward.