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Report: U.S. must move more quickly toward 100 percent renewable energy

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A new report released Wednesday contends that the United States needs to move more swiftly toward a future in which virtually all of the energy used comes from renewable sources.

Washington, D.C.-based Environment America says in its report that a more aggressive approach to using wind and solar power in this country is both feasible and necessary if the nation is to avoid future severe weather scenarios brought on by climate change,

The report, “We Have The Power: 100 percent Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America,” was released during a conference call with journalists on Wednesday.

“It’s not some far-off deal,” said Rob Sargent, energy program director at Environment America and one of the authors of the report. “Many states and communities are embracing that goal and have concrete plans for doing it.”

Although the report doesn’t mention Connecticut specifically, Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said there is already a blueprint being developed for increasing reliance on clean energy sources such as solar, wind and water power.

“We are now developing detailed plans, through the Governor’s Council on Climate Change,” Schain said.

The state has set goals that require the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 10 percent below where they were in 1990. The mandate for the year 2050 is to have greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below where they were in 2001.

The authors of the report and several renewable energy experts who spoke on the conference call said that if state and federal lawmakers are committed to achieving a goal of 100 percent renewable power, it might be achieved over the period of two or three decades.

“It’s time for the government and the private sector to make it happen,” said Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst with Boston-based Frontier Group and a co-author of the report.

David Freeman, a former public utility executive and the author of several books on the need to move aggressively toward renewable energy, said the alternative to reducing greenhouses gases to zero over the next three-and-half decades “is we’re gonna cook.”

“We have been told by the family doctor, the climatologist ... that this is no longer something we ought to do, or should do, it’s something we’ve got to do,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to have a plan that puts the oil and natural gas people out of work in the next 25 to 30 years, similar to what is happening to the coal industry right now.”

Officials with the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, did not respond to a request for comment on Freeman’s remark.

The participants in the teleconference say a move toward 100 percent renewable energy must be accompanied by plans to retrain people who work in the fossil fuels industry and come with the necessary funding to support that.

Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University engineering professor, outlined a scenario of how a 100 percent renewable energy future might work.

To eliminate the use of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, Jacobson said consumers would need to switch to electric cars for short-range travel. Hydrogen-powered fuel vehicles, which have greater range, would be for those who need to take longer trips.

In terms of generating electricity and providing energy to warm and cool homes, Jacobson said a three-pronged approach should be used.

Solar power would be the primary source of energy during the daytime, with on- and off-shore wind farms as a back-up during the day and the primary source of energy at night. And hydropower from existing sources should be used to further bolster power supplies during both the day and night, he said.

Freeman said areas of the country that are less windy or have less regular exposure to sunlight could have power brought in from outside the region via electric transmission lines.

“Transmission lines can move energy more effectively than pipelines can move fuel,” he said.

Schain said he is skeptical that the move toward 100 percent renewable energy can occur as fast as the Environment America report is projecting.

“It would be great to flip a switch and get 100 percent clean power and clean cars over night,” Schain said. “It is going to take some time to bring about this major transformation.”

Call Luther Turmelle at 203-680-9388.

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