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SOLAR ENERGY AND OUR
ENVIRONMENTAL FUTURE

Twenty-five years ago, EPA was established as a regulatory agency with primary federal responsibility for protecting public health and the environment. Over the past five years, we have worked to find new common-sense ways to prevent pollution, which is why our Agency enthusiastically supports solar and other renewable energy technologies.

To understand the natural alliance between environmental protection and renewable energy, you need only to look at the electric utility industry. Fossil fuel-fired electric power plants are responsible for roughly two-thirds of U.S. sulfur dioxide emissions, one-third of nitrogen oxide emissions, one-third of particulate emissions, and one third of carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite significant reductions in air pollution over the past few decades, many energy-related pollution problems remain. Millions of Americans still live in areas that do not meet EPA's health-based air quality standards, and global warming has emerged as an environmental threat that could swamp — figuratively and literally — our other environmental protection efforts.

For the first time in history, pollution — particularly from the burning of fossil fuels — is changing the earth's climate. The average surface temperature is now a full degree Fahrenheit higher than it was at the beginning of this century — and it may rise another two to six degrees over the next century. That may not sound like much to many people. But over the course of the next century the effects could be dramatic: more frequent and more intense heat waves will cause more heat-related deaths, severe weather events such as droughts and floods will become more common, tropical diseases like malaria will expand their range, agriculture will suffer, and the oceans will rise, perhaps by several feet — swamping many coastal areas.

As the President has said, tackling this problem is a great challenge for our democracy. We have the evidence, we see the train coming, but most ordinary Americans, in their day-to-day lives, cannot yet hear the whistle blowing. Unless they live in a place where they have experienced a couple of hundred-year floods in the past decade, the consequences of global warming are not yet readily apparent to them.

Back in December, the nations of the world met in Japan to reach agreement on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global climate change. The agreement calls upon developed countries including the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012.

This is a goal we can meet if we bring to this challenge that which has long made this country great — our creativity, innovation, and ingenuity. As was noted in a recently completed study by the Department of Energy, a vigorous national commitment to develop and deploy energy-efficient, low-carbon and renewable energy technologies has the potential to restrain the growth in U.S. carbon emissions.

EPA and other federal agencies are working with thousands of private sector partners to bring these efficient technologies into more widespread use. You can look for EPA and DOE's ENERGY STAR label to find energy-efficient computers, heating and cooling equipment, home appliances, televisions, and other products. Over the next 15 years, these more energy-efficient products have the potential to cut the nation's utility bills by $100 billion and reduce emissions of the pollutants that cause global warming.

So increasing energy efficiency is a key part of the solution to global warming. The other critical component of the solution is changing the kind of energy we use — transforming our nation’s energy infrastructure away from reliance on polluting fossil fuel and towards low-carbon and renewable energy sources.

Solar energy will be part of that transformation. In the coming decade, solar energy use in the U.S. is expected to grow dramatically, eventually producing enough thermal and electric clean energy to supply a million homes, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 5 million tons a year — the equivalent of taking more than 3 million cars off the road.

To help accelerate the diffusion of solar energy into the marketplace, EPA has initiated a number of solar-related activities. EPA voluntary programs now include solar. The EPA State and Local Outreach Program, for example, is working to encourage municipal governments to buy solar energy systems. The ENERGY STAR Buildings Program is identifying opportunities for building-integrated solar applications. And the Climate Wise Program is working with industrial companies to encourage them to install solar.

EPA is also examining the pollution prevention benefits of solar energy. EPA and the utility industry are partners in a $4.25 million cost-shared program to fund the installation of 30 commercial and residential rooftop photovoltaic systems totaling 376 kilowatts of generating capacity. The systems’ performance is compared with hour-by-hour operating characteristics of the participating utilities to accurately determine the pollution benefits of the PV systems.

EPA is looking at its own facilities, using the results from a study conducted in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to examine opportunities for application of solar and other renewable technologies at EPA facilities.

EPA has also formed a group to work with States to develop guidance for accurately forecasting changes in energy use and their air pollution benefits. The goal is to provide a tool that will assist States in getting credit for energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts in state plans to comply with the Clean Air Act.

In short, EPA is committed to a partnership with the solar industry because of our shared goals in reducing pollution and addressing global warming. There are some who say that we are not up to the challenge of global warming. In the past, every time we have acted to protect public health and the environment, pessimists have said it would hurt the economy. But now our environment is cleaner than it was before we started, and our economy is the strongest it has been in a generation. We have proven that we can have strong environmental protection and still have strong economic growth and prosperity. When it comes to tackling global warming, we can do it again. I look forward to a partnership with the solar industry in this effort.

CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE -->Written by: By Carol Browner, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


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