Obama orders government to slash emissions, consume more renewables

The order, which calls for the government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40% over the next decade from 2008 levels, would save taxpayers up to $18 billion in avoided energy costs, estimates the White House.

President Obama’s order increases the federal government’s use of renewable electricity to 30% of its total portfolio by 2025. However, this represents only a modest incremental rise from the federal target created by President George W. Bush under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which required 20% by 2020.

Obama’s order also requires federal buildings to cut their energy use 2.5% annually by 2025 and increases the size of the government’s electric-vehicle fleet.

As part of the announcement, several big-name government contractors also committed to using more renewable energy and reducing emissions—including Battelle, General Electric, Honeywell, IBM and others.

The U.S. solar industry praised the measures.

“When it comes to fighting climate change and transitioning to a clean energy future, President Obama is once again leading by example,” said Rhone Resch, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“As the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, the U.S. solar energy industry is uniquely poised to help. Think of all the wasted space on top of federal buildings—many of them larger than football fields. We’re ready to work with federal agencies to turn those dead zones into vibrant solar arrays, generating clean, reliable and affordable electricity for our federal workforce.”

The U.S. solar industry already has made some progress on that front, especially in partnering with the Defense Department. SunPower, for example, in 2007 installed a 14 MW PV power plant atop a capped landfill at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada. Last summer, SunPower signed a contract with NV Energy to supply a follow-up 19 MW plant at Nellis. Construction is expected to start this year.

Obama’s action comes as Congress begins drafting broad energy legislation that could also impact the federal government’s renewable energy purchases.