SCOTUS can't stop states from growing clean energy markets

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series by the author focused on the use of limited public dollars to leverage large private investments that accelerate growth of clean energy markets. Click to read part one of the series, "Cleaner and Cheaper Energy with Green Banks."

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Justice Scalia’s demise has many consequences for law and society, but nothing is more likely to be impacted than the great debate over regulating carbon emissions.

One of the late justice’s last acts was to compose a five-person majority staying the President’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) from taking effect. Many Supreme Court watchers interpreted the vote as foreshadowing a SCOTUS ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act.

With Justice Scalia’s passing, it seems clear that the next justice confirmed will create a majority for or against the CPP. Even while the Republican Senate asserts that no one will be confirmed until next year, the environmental issue continues to grow in importance.

It’s in the United States’ best interest to solve the legal issue surrounding the EPA’s authority as soon as possible, thus the next justice should be confirmed as soon as possible.

Market forces are pushing out coal-fired power and giving rise to renewable energy sources like wind and solar photovoltaics (solar PV). Price signals and technological development can make a huge difference in investment and emissions reductions.

The 49 states that need to unleash change by complying with the CPP, however, are now stuck in legal limbo. Many states, even those suing the EPA, had long ago begun planning. Stakeholder meetings, market assessments, and policy analyses have all begun, with an eye toward submitting compliance plans by the EPA deadlines. Some states may see the Supreme Court’s stay as an opportunity to halt progress.

Meanwhile, states whose policymakers continue to have interest in moving their economy to a clean power platform can and should move forward. States should implement their own regulations and use a Green Bank to make sure that the transition delivers clean energy solutions at the same or lower price than citizens currently pay for fossil fuel-based power.

Today, rooftop solar is less expensive than utility power in 20 states. By 2020, that number is expected to increase to 42 states. And these figures assume a cost of financing that can be made even lower with a Green Bank.

Are policymakers in Arizona (whose attorney general sued to the EPA) really going to prevent consumers and businesses from lowering their energy costs by adopting solar? Do state leaders want to halt investment, innovation, and the economic growth that comes from transitioning to a clean power future?

In 2015, the solar industry employed over 200,000 workers in the United States, 20 percent more than in 2014, and more than double the level of solar employment in 2010. The solar labor force alone is now more than three times greater than the coal mining industry.

The cost of installing solar panels is expected to decline by at least (another) one-third over the next five years. The price of long-term contracts for wind power is also declining significantly. At the same time, the U.S.’s average retail electricity price is expected to continue to steadily rise. And, as grid prices rise, energy efficiency becomes even more economically attractive to end-users.

These and other factors add up to an energy market in transition, and states leading the charge can harness this transition for tremendous economic gain.

States have an opportunity to lower the cost of doing business, lower the energy burden for those in need, and create thousands of incremental jobs to serve growing clean energy industries.

States need not wait for the Supreme Court, and need not purely pursue a clean energy economy under the banner of climate change. The gains of cheaper cleaner energy are great enough to pursue, whether or not climate change is a motivator.

A Green Bank can finance this transition, ensuring that upfront costs of technology adoption do not prevent growth. And Green Banks can build market mechanisms that facilitate transparency, competition, and easy purchasing for consumers and businesses.

Forward-thinking states that understand this opportunity and path to economic gain should not be deterred by the Supreme Court’s current dilemma. Policymakers and those who influence policy should be emboldened to seek their own innovative solutions, focusing on the environmental AND economic benefits of a clean energy future—rather than the burdens of federal regulation.

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Jeffrey Schub is the executive director of the Coalition for Green Capital (CGC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that works at the state, federal and international levels to create clean energy finance initiatives, or “green banks,” that accelerate the growth of clean energy markets. CGC is the nation’s leading consultant on green banks, which use limited public dollars to leverage large private investments in clean energy. Prior to his work at CGC, Schub was an economic consultant at Analysis Group, focused on technology and innovation. Schub holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and BAs in economics and public policy from Brown University. For additional information, contact him at jeff@coalitionforgreencapital.com or follow Twitter @CGreenCapital.  

 

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The views expressed by contributors to the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's blogging initiative, "The Economic Argument for Environmental Protection," are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the foundation.

 

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