U.S. Renewable Energy Numbers Show Strong Progress Towards a Long-Time Goal

July 30, 2020

An analysis of data released by the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) that measures the amount of power generated by various resources shows more than 25 percent of the nation’s net electrical generation came from renewable sources during the month of May.

The percentage is a gratifying number for many involved in Solutions from the Land (SfL). The 25x’25 Alliance, an SfL initiative, was formed in 2005 to promote the role of our farms, ranches and forestlands in generating by 2025 at least 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, all while continuing to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed and fiber.

SfL’s roots in 25x’25 are reflected in the former’s leadership, a team of respected agriculture, forestry, conservation, academic and industry influencers who came together in 2009 to explore integrated land management solutions that can help meet food security, public health, economic development, climate change and biodiversity conservation goals.

Many of those involved in the founding of SfL came out of the 25x’25 movement. When inaugurated in 2005, the 25x’25 Alliance found that only 5.6 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States came from renewable sources. By the time 25x’25 had fully transitioned into SfL in 2014, the share of U.S. energy resourced from renewables – biomass and biofuels, geothermal energy, solar power, wind energy and hydropower – exceeded more than 15 percent, a 10-percent jump.

By that time, 25x’25 advocates had been successful in promoting renewable energy’s favorable economics and the relative ease of its installation in strategic locations – from rooftop solar panels to rural-based wind farms – to the degree that elected officials at the local, state and national levels began to readily adopt the policies that enable widespread implementation of these alternative energy sources.

While economic and national security benefits and logistical ease have been major selling points for clean renewable energy, its biggest value is in its ability to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) that would have been emitted by generating energy from carbon-based sources like coal, natural gas and oil.

This key attribute continues to be promoted today by SfL, which touts GHG reduction as one of the three pillars of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA). That drop in greenhouse gases is achieved through carbon sequestration (practices that enhance soil health), methane capture (anaerobic digesters on dairy operations, for example) and clean fuels.

Unfortunately, the effort to boost fuels that offer lower GHGs has found itself in a tumultuous political debate. EPA’s maneuvers had hobbled the renewable fuels sector long before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic that has economically threatened the entire transportation fuel sector.

EPA’s penchant in recent years for granting unprecedented numbers of small refinery exemptions (SREs) from Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel blending requirements has cost the ethanol and biodiesel industries millions of gallons in demand, financially crippling and shutting down many biofuel manufacturing operations. Even faced with a U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the waivers improper, EPA officials have deliberately entertained refiners’ attempts to submit requests for questionable, backdated blending waivers, a manipulation of the wording of the ruling to bring the additional SREs into “compliance” with the court’s decision.

The 25.3-percent share of U.S. power energy production coming from renewables in May is a gratifying number. But there is still a way to go to achieve the full 25x’25 goal, including more low-GHG alternatives for the transportation sector, and wider implementation of no- and low-carbon energy sources for the power industry.

Forward progress must continue to be made in the wider development of wind, solar, geothermal and other power sources. And some sanity must be restored in the administration of the nation’s renewable fuels laws to optimize the benefits that biofuels can offer to the transportation sector.

SfL encourages stakeholders to join in urging policy makers at all levels to fully support renewable energy programs and policies that benefit the economy, the environment and the planet.

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