SOTU Address Champions “Clean Energy” over “Dirty Energy”

In his final State of the Union (SOTU) address on January 12, and arguably less so than in any other address he has given over the last seven years, President Obama made sparse mention of energy and climate change.

The president dedicated most of the energy references in his address to “clean” energy, encapsulating wind and solar—and as defined in opposition to “dirtier conventional power,” which presumably referred to fossil fuels. The stance is a departure from the administration’s official and much-publicized “All-of-the-Above” energy strategy that had been championed in previous addresses.

Last night, the president said that the U.S. needs the same, critical level of commitment to develop “clean energy” sources as was needed for medical research. While global warming is a concern, “Why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” he asked.

Renewables had made big leaps owing to major investments made in 2008. “Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average.”

 

 

FACT CHECK

“Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.” 

Arguable at best. A study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance last year showed that the global average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of onshore wind was $83/MWh in the second half of 2015 compared to $75/MWh for coal, and $82/MWh for combined cycle gas turbine generation in the Americas. The International Energy Agency finds likewise, as this POWER infographic shows. Meanwhile, the American Wind Energy Association confirmed that wind energy is 66% less expensive than it was just six years ago, but it hasn’t made President Obama’s claim outright.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts in its Annual Energy Outlook 2015, however, that the levelized cost of electricity for onshore wind will be $73.6/MWh, compared to $95.1/MWh for conventional coal by 2020.

“On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar … employs more Americans than coal—in jobs that pay better than average.”

Stretching it—in a big way. Nearly 209,000 Americans work in the U.S. solar industry, according to a report issued on January 12 by The Solar Foundation. In 2012, as this POWER infographic shows, the coal generation sector alone employed 380,851 people.

The president also briefly touched on the distributed generation and energy storage revolution, saying the federal government is “taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy,” noting that both environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support those measures.

Finally, he also claimed that the U.S. has “cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”

Concerning climate change, the president said, simply: “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

Looking forward, the president pledged a change “the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers on our planet.” According to experts, it means that the president wants companies leasing oil and coal rights on federal land to pay more to reflect the cost of their greenhouse gas emissions.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)