Obama orders federal buildings to triple renewable energy use

The U.S. government has been ordered to lead by example in the nation’s pursuit of a more renewable future – by none other than the President himself.

Barack Obama has urged the federal government to step up its use of renewable energy sources in order to reach a 2020 target of 20% clean energy use.

As part of the President’s second-term drive to drastically alter the U.S.‘s dependence on fossil fuels, Obama signed a memorandum Thursday stating that a more renewable future would also help reduce pollution, tackle climate change, promote American energy independence and boost domestic employment opportunities in the fields of solar and wind.

"In order to create a clean energy economy that will increase our nation’s prosperity, promote energy security, combat climate change, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the federal government must lead by example," wrote Obama in the memorandum.

"During my administration, federal agencies have reduced their annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15% (7.8 million metric tons) – the equivalent of removing 1.5 million cars from the road. Today I am establishing new goals for renewable energy as well as new energy-management practices."

The federal government occupies more than 500,000 buildings and utilizes an estimated 600,000 vehicles across the States. Furthermore, it spends in excess of $500 billion on goods and services each year, which means that any progress the government can make in securing more renewable energy sources is likely to be keenly felt.

Before yesterday’s memorandum, the government had a relatively modest target of acquiring just 7.5% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. This latest announcement sees that figure almost triple. The military agency of the federal government – the Defense Department – had previously targeted 2025 as the year by which a quarter of its energy needs were to be derived from renewable sources.

Announcement welcomed

Obama’s announcement – which formed part of a wider eco-friendly initiative to drive down the use of fossil fuels across all federal agencies – was welcomed by environmental groups and renewable energy associations.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) applauded Obama’s stance, releasing a press statement that was effusive in its praise.

"This is a landmark moment in our nation’s history," began the statement from SEIA CEO and president, Rhone Resch. "Today, climate change is a real and growing threat to America and the rest of the world. It’s indisputable. Sea levels are rising. Artic ice is disappearing. We’re experiencing more intense and unpredictable storms. And droughts plague the world. From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation’s future prosperity and way of life more than climate change. That’s why it’s so important for the federal government to lead by example. We applaud President Obama for standing firm and following through on a key commitment he made as part of his Climate Action Plan.

"America’s solar energy industry is doing its part, too," continued Resch. "Today, solar is one of the fastest-growing sources of new energy in the U.S. and recently surpassed 10 GW of installed capacity – enough to power more than 1.7 million American homes. What’s more, this year we expect to bring more solar online than world leader Germany. From rooftop solar to large-scale utility solar projects, we’re helping to create thousands of new American jobs, save money for U.S. consumers, boost local economies and reduce pollution nationwide."

Resch concluded by urging the Obama administration to further develop a more modern procurement process that will allow solar to compete on a more even playing field with fossil fuels. "Federal agencies should have the authority to adopt long-term PPAs in order to maximize savings for U.S. taxpayers. Today’s outdated system discourages the same power purchases for federal facilities that successful companies like Walmart, Costco and Apple use to save money by going solar."

In leading by example, the Obama adminstration’s memorandum reflects good intentions but also highlights how limited the President’s options are in instigating wider policy change. Many U.S. climate experts would like to see the introduction of a carbon tax or emissions trading law – something that is unlikely to win many friends in a Republican-led House.