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24th Feb 2024

European industry hopes to profit from Obama's new climate plan

  • America won't shift to a renewable future without a big political fight which may impact next years' presidential election. (Photo: Robert and Cathy)

European wind and solar industries have welcomed US President Barack Obama’s new climate plan while European politicians see Washington’s move as a positive signal ahead of UN climate talks in Paris.

"We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged", said Obama on Monday (3 August).

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  • The plan is seen as an attempt by Obama to secure his legacy and fulfil election promises during his final months in office. (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

The Clean Power Plan establishes for the first time national standards for limiting carbon pollution from American power plants and aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

It also says that renewables should account for 28 percent of US energy consumption by 2030.

The plan is seen as an attempt by Obama to secure his legacy and fulfill election promises during his final months in office.

It is also likely to boost the currently stalled international climate talks when negotiators gather for talks in Paris in December.

"The CleanPowerPlan gives further momentum to #COP21, shows US commitment to underpin its international climate pledge with domestic action", EU energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete tweeted.

He called the plan "a positive step forward" which "can boost clean energy and speed up the low-carbon transformation". Meanwhile shares in wind energy companies – such as Vestas Wind Systems – rose on the announcement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to Obama’s “visionary leadership” while German environment minister Barbara Hendricks said the plan was an "important signal" for the Paris talks.

Danish energy minister Lars Christian Lilleholt said the plan might "open new export opportunities for Danish companies".

Not without a fight

But the US’ shift to a greener future is not expected to be without a political fight which may impact next years' presidential election.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton backed the plan, saying that if elected she will defend it against "Republican doubters and defeatists."

But the Republicans are largely opposing it and have called it “a war on coal” and vowed to mount legal challenges against it.

Currently more than one third of the US’ electricity supply comes from coal-fired plants and opponents of the Obama plan claim their closure will result in a hike in consumers’ electricity bills.

Obama, for his part, says the plan will save the average American nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030.

Each state is to be responsible for cutting its emissions and should draw up a plan by 2018 on how to do it.

Some state governors have already rebelled and are likely to join a legal action against the plan, meaning it could end up in the Supreme Court.

States such as West Virginia and Wyoming, with economies reliant on coal mining or cheap electricity from coal-fired power plants, are leading the action.

“We think this regulation is terrible for the consumers of the state of West Virginia. It’s going to lead to reduced jobs, higher electricity rates, and really will put stress on the reliability of the power grid. The worst part of this proposal is that it’s flatly illegal under the Clean Air Act and the Constitution, and we intend to challenge it vigorously,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said.

Renewable sources currently account for only 5 percent of US electricity compared with 37 percent from coal, 31 percent from natural gas and 19 percent from nuclear power.

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