Natural gas is changing the clean energy game, but the game is not over

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Fershee, Joshua P.
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In his article, Clean Energy Federalism, Professor Felix Mormann analyzes the key facets of how energy law and environmental law intersect, as he considers how to implement a program to “decarbonize America’s energy economy.” In this forward-thinking piece, Professor Mormann considers the potential role of renewable portfolio (RPSs) and feed-in tariffs (FITs) and how concurrent implementation at the federal and state level could support a lower-carbon energy future. His conclusion — “that one clean energy policy (RPS) be implemented at the federal and another (FIT) at the state level” — is likely correct from a policy-optimization perspective. Still, as Professor Mormann acknowledges, such policies can face enormous political hurdles. This Response acknowledges the enormous role fossil fuels still play in our electricity generation sector and notes that renewables still account for less than 15% of the overall U.S. generation market. The energy sector, though, can be expected to continue its diversification, in part because diversification is valuable for utility reliability and resilience, as well as for financial management purposes. With lower natural gas prices, fuel switching has continued at pace, with the bulk of the new natural gas generation replacing coal-fired generation. This is a positive development for those looking to displace coal, but the change to natural gas also delays at least some of the shifting to renewables.
This response argues that all is not lost because of that delay. The coal-fired generation that is displaced by natural gas could create at least some opportunity for a parallel increase in renewable electricity generation. Although some may believe that low natural gas prices undercut the option of bringing new renewable energy online, that does not need to be the case. Professor Mormann’s option is still a reality, and the likelihood of success is more a question of priority than opportunity.
Joshua P. Fershee, Natural Gas is Changing the Clean Energy Game, But the Game is Not Over, 67 Fla. L. Rev. F. 221 (2016) (Response to Felix Mormann, Clean Energy Federalism).
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