Blog: Clean Economy Can't Be Stopped

Author argues it is now cheaper to cut carbon and use renewable energy that to keep the status quo. Thus, the clean economy and renewables can't be stopped.
By Susanne Retka Schill | December 05, 2016

The EPA’s decision on the 2017 RVO, setting renewable volumes for all but cellulosic at statutary lvels was, indeed, something to be thankful for. Coming out the day before Thanksgiving, it was truly good news. In some respects, for the corn ethanol industry it was just 200 million gallons, raising the proposed RVO from 14.8 to 15, but what it signaled was the EPA listened to the industry’s arguments.

I read something else that suggests we may be seeing a tipping point. Andrew Winston, writing on the Sustainable Brands website, argues the clean economy can’t be stopped. “The reason is simple: It’s now cheaper to cut carbon and use renewable energy than to keep the status quo,” he writes. Renewables are no longer more expensive than fossil fuels, he says, and he cites a model looking at what it costs to build and operate different forms of energy that finds “the newest renewable energy projects cost less than the average industrial and commercial energy prices in at least 45 states.” When it comes to electric generation, “renewable energy has already won.” 

Furthermore, other countries will keep going, he says. “Consider China: The country isn’t investing hundreds of billions of dollars in clean technology because of global accords like the Paris agreement. It’s the other way around  —  they came to the table to agree to global carbon cuts because they want to invest in the clean economy. Part of the reason is staring us all in the face: people can’t breathe in the cities (this is true in India, as well).”

Winston’s article focused more on renewable electricity generation, but there’s a case to be made for biofuels in a parallel argument. Replacing coal generation with renewables, of course, is one of the solutions to clean air. But transportation fuels are a huge contributor to smog and less visible air pollution in cities. Ethanol’s contribution to cleaner air as a cost-effective oxygenate is gaining attention globally. It’s a big part of the driving force for increased exports, with China a notable customer among an expanding list of countries.