President Obama will today unveil a wide-ranging new energy strategy designed to provide a “blueprint for a clean and secure energy future” that aims to accelerate investment in clean technologies and double renewable energy capacity by 2020.
The president will use a visit to a clean energy research lab to officially launch the long-awaited strategy, which promises to build on his pledges earlier this year to make action on climate change a central plank of his second term agenda.
“Since President Obama took office, responsible oil and gas production has increased each year, while oil imports have fallen to a 20-year low [and] renewable electricity generation from wind, solar and geothermal sources has doubled,” the plan will state.
“In short, the president’s approach is working. It’s a winning strategy for the economy, energy security and the environment.”
The new strategy sets out a series of goals to build on this success, including a target to cut oil imports in half against 2008 levels and double renewable energy capacity again by 2020.
The report also sets out several new policy proposals designed to accelerate clean energy investment, including a call for Congress to make tax breaks for renewable energy projects permanent, moves to streamline further permitting for clean energy projects, and proposals to reduce the environmental impact of shale gas production.
In addition, it provides further details on Obama’s plan for a $2bn ‘Energy Security Trust’ over 10 years, which was announced earlier this year and has secured support from military figures and sparked interest from a number of Republicans.
The proposed fund would provide targeted support for research initiatives designed to reduce the cost of renewable energy technologies and accelerate the roll out of a wide range of energy-efficient and clean technologies.
Under the plan, the fund would be supported by revenues raised through taxes on oil and gas production. White House officials told reporters yesterday that the funding would not lead to less revenue from the Treasury as the additional $2bn would be raised through an expected increase in offshore oil and gas production and changes to permitting processes.
However, the Obama administration is braced for a tough Congressional battle to see the plan realised, with a host of high-profile Republicans already lining up to condemn the strategy. Analysts expect the GOP to push for a significant increase in oil and gas production in return for supporting the plan – something the White House has already ruled out.
The plan also makes no mention of the imminent decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone Xl pipeline, which commentators are increasingly convinced the president will be forced to approve, despite high-profile protests from environmental groups.
Analysts are speculating that Obama will now give the project the green light after a series of federal studies found no reason to block the pipeline. However, he is also expected to announce tough new emissions standards on existing power plants at the same time in an attempt to retain the support of green groups and keep the US on track to meet his stated target of cutting emissions 17 per cent by 2020.
Separately, the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) yesterday released a major new report revealing that the sector enjoyed another record year of growth in 2012, after more than 3.3GW of new capacity was installed.
The report calculated that even as the cost of solar technologies continued to fall the size of the solar market grew 34 per cent in 2012 to $11.5bn.
The surge in new installations meant that by the end of 2012 the US boasted 7.2GW of solar PV capacity and a further 546MW of concentrated solar thermal capacity, together providing enough power for 1.2 million homes.
“There were 16 million solar panels installed in the US last year – more than two panels per second of the work day – and every one of these panels was bolted down by a member of the US workforce,” said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the SEIA, in a statement.
“We’ve brought more new solar online in 2012 than in the three previous years combined. This sustained growth is enabling the solar industry to create thousands of good jobs and to provide clean, affordable energy for more families, businesses, utilities and the military than ever before.”