Merkley plans 100% renewable power push

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley is planning to introduce multiple bills in coming months to move the U.S. power mix to 100 percent renewable sources by midcentury.

The plan is backed by environmentalists like co-founder Bill McKibben. Merkley made the announcement last week at the Netroots Nation conference in St. Louis on a panel with billionaire green activist Tom Steyer, which focused on Merkley’s “Keep It in the Ground Act.”

That earlier legislation, introduced last year in Congress, would have ended all new federal leases for oil, gas or coal extraction on public lands.

Merkley framed the legislation in terms of climate change, saying on the panel that “nothing short of our existence on this planet at stake.”

He said: “We recently hit the ominous milestone of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Each year, we are cataloging hotter and hotter average temperatures.”

McKibben added: “Jeff’s right. The engineers have done their job and given us cheap renewable energy to work with if want it.”

Merkley’s plan is also backed by the Solutions Project, which outlined a blueprint for all 50 states to achieve clean energy by 2050 following research on the subject from Stanford University engineering professor Mark Jacobson.

In the first four months of the year, the United States got about 17 percent of its power from renewables, with most of that coming from hydropower, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Earlier this year, the United States, Mexico and Canada announced a plan to achieve 50 percent zero-carbon power by 2050, including through nuclear. The EIA chief said at the time that 50 percent clean power was “doable” by 2025 (Greenwire, June 28).

Merkley said he would “seek input from members of Congress, interested members of the public and partners to help design policies.”

In its recent annual energy outlook, EIA projected in one case that renewables would make up about 27 percent of electricity by 2040.

So far, congressional lawmakers have failed this year to extend tax credits for renewable energy sources like geothermal left out of last year’s spending and tax deal.