U.S., Mexico, Canada pledge 50 percent clean power by 2025

The United States and Mexico will commit to joining Canada in boosting their use of wind, solar and
President Barack Obama takes a tour of solar panels at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, April 3, 2015.
President Barack Obama takes a tour of solar panels at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, April 3, 2015.

The United States and Mexico will commit to joining Canada in boosting their use of wind, solar and other carbon-free sources of electricity, helping North America meet an ambitious goal of generating at least 50 percent of its energy from “clean” sources by 2025.

The pledge is set to be made as part of a trilateral summit of North American leaders Wednesday in Ottawa, where the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union is likely to consume much of the agenda. The meeting will also focus on trade and regional security issues.

“We believe this is an aggressive goal but one that is achievable by all three countries,” Brian Deese, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama on environmental and energy matters, said Monday on a conference call with reporters.

The goal applies across the continent, meaning it’s an average for Canada, Mexico and the U.S. together. The goal, which would need to be adhered to by the president who succeeds Obama in January, is “achievable if all three countries respectively make ambitious progress toward executing and in effect exceeding the targets” established in the climate accord reached in Paris last year, Deese said.

The commitment will apply to any electricity generated without producing carbon dioxide emissions, including nuclear as well as renewable wind, solar and hydro power. Deese said it also could apply to power from plants using carbon-capture technology to siphon off emissions. The goal does not otherwise include natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal but still produces carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.

The nations will also seek to boost energy efficiency, Deese said.

Environmentalists applauded the announcement, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune saying it demonstrates “North American unity behind a consensus for strong global climate action.”

“This agreement means the United States will dramatically increase the amount of clean, renewable energy we get from sources like wind and solar within the next decade,” Brune said.

Over the past year, the U.S. derived about a third of its power from carbon-free sources, including nuclear that provided 19.9 percent, according to April data from the Energy Information Administration. Continent-wide, about 37 percent of North America’s electricity came from carbon-free sources in 2015, largely because Canada already obtains more than half its energy from clean sources.

Deese declined to speculate on how much of the 50 percent goal would need to be from the U.S.

It’s a “doable” goal, said U.S. Energy Information Administration head Adam Sieminski. The agency forecasts growing use of wind and solar electricity even with Obama administration regulations slashing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Policy agreements, such as the goal being announced in Ottawa, can “intensify some of the trends that are already under way,” Sieminski said during an event previewing the EIA’s annual energy outlook.

The target represents a stronger pledge for Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The Obama administration had previously said it aimed for the U.S. to get a fifth of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, as part of a commitment made with Brazil last year. Mexico last year promised to get 35 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2024, up from 3 percent a year ago.

As part of the new partnership, Mexico also will agree to join Canada and the U.S. in throttling emissions of methane, which is pound for pound 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over 20 years.

Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March committed to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by as much as 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. A new Environmental Protection Agency rule, finished in May, limits methane releases from new oil and gas wells, setting the stage for mandates targeting existing infrastructure too.

Mexico’s move on methane is significant because “North America accounts for 15 to 20 percent of global oil and gas methane emissions,” said Mark Brownstein, a vice president in the climate and energy program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

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