Energy Efficiency and Renewables: The Cheapest, Smartest Way for States to Cut Carbon Pollution

03/18/2015 09:43 am ET | Updated May 18, 2015

States will have a lot of flexibility in crafting plans to cut carbon pollution from power plants. And when it comes to making those cuts, energy efficiency and renewable energy are the best path forward. This is made clear in a new series of NRDC analyses that illustrate how expanding renewable energy and cutting energy waste are the cheapest, smartest ways for states to cut carbon pollution and meet their Clean Power Plan targets. So despite the recent call from Senator McConnell, states should "just say yes" to moving ahead with plans to cut carbon pollution.

Climate-related disasters in 2012 alone cost American taxpayers more than $100 billion. We see the effects of climate change throughout our country in violent storms, floods and droughts. It is past time to have strong limits on carbon pollution from fossil-fuel-burning power plants -- the nation's biggest source of the pollution that drives climate change. And that is what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is doing with its Clean Power Plan, which will establish the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from the electricity sector. Nationwide, the plan as proposed would cut power-sector carbon pollution 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 30 percent by 2030, and usher in climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion annually in 2030, far outweighing the annual compliance costs of $7 billion to 9 billion to put the new plans in place. NRDC has shown how the EPA can achieve even greater reductions for substantially the same costs as the EPA's plan, and even greater climate and health benefits in the final standards coming this summer. When the EPA finalizes those standards, each state will have the flexibility and opportunity to design a plan to cut dirty carbon pollution that best fits the needs of its people and resources.

Every state generates electricity from a unique mix of resources, which is why the EPA designed so much flexibility into the Clean Power Plan. Each state has the opportunity to craft its own approach to cut carbon pollution. And the best methods by far when it comes to reducing pollution, protecting our health, and creating new jobs come from renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The good news is that NRDC's new state-by-state analyses show that many states are already on a good path to meet their targets and can go even further to reap the economic and health benefits through increased investment in clean energy. The analysis for states from Florida to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Montana shows that these states are already on the path to reduce their carbon emissions. For them and many other states, putting a strong plan in place will mean building on their strengths through investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Energy efficiency is the least expensive way for states to meet their pollution reduction targets under the new standards. The demonstrated growth rates of the top 10 states show that smart policies or implementation plans can help states remove existing market barriers and deploy this low-cost resource. With technological and other advances, wind and solar power costs are declining rapidly, becoming competitive with the costs of fossil fuel plants.

The NRDC analyses highlight a range of policy approaches that states can employ in their plans to cut carbon pollution. For example, states can choose to set standards that achieve a specific pollution rate (lbs. CO2/MWh) or meet a total pollution target (total tons of CO2). Either approach can work well to help a state craft a custom-made, innovative and effective set of solutions to cut carbon pollution. And the NRDC analyses also highlight the advantages of cooperative, multi-state approaches to help a state achieve even better results in areas such as consumer savings, reduced compliance costs, increased flexibility and reliability, and avoided electricity market distortions.

With the reality of climate change being felt across America and the world, now is the time to tackle carbon pollution to help protect our country and show the kind of leadership that will galvanize global action. With American ingenuity at work, we can harness the energy we need from efficiency and renewable sources such as the wind and the sun. And, as is often the case in America, states are in the lead in creating flexible and innovative plans to take us into the clean power future.