Columnist Johanna Neumann: How to build a 100% renewable energy future

Published: 3/28/2022 2:09:36 PM
Modified: 3/28/2022 2:08:40 PM

Even hopeful people like me can look at the problems of the world and feel daunted. And while sometimes the problems seem ever more dire, it is also true that solutions abound.

Take for example, our reliance on dirty forms of energy, which create serious environmental and public health problems when these fuels are mined, transported, burned and the wastes of that combustion are disposed of.

Thankfully, solutions abound and the past two decades have seen clean energy grow in America. Today, more than 12% of our nation’s energy comes from renewable sources and that amount is growing every year. The sooner we break our reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels for power, the sooner we’ll have cleaner air to breathe, cleaner water to drink, and a healthier and more stable future for our children.

Of course, renewables are not a panacea. All energy technologies have some impact. Switching to solar panels and electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries will create new problems. We’re already seeing some of those issues emerge around the mining of minerals for batteries, concerns about where to site solar arrays, and more.

But putting our society in the position to use the energy of the sun and wind instead of fossil fuels would address problems that have plagued us for decades. And, in the case of global warming, will have serious ramifications if we don’t slash emissions very quickly.

Time is of the essence. This needs to be the decade of clean energy implementation. Now is the time to pull out the stops to accelerate the widespread adoption of rooftop solar, offshore wind and other technologies that allow us to harness the power of the wind and the sun to power our lives.

Toward that end, I invite you to join me in supporting public policies that, if enacted, would move Massachusetts and America toward a future powered by clean energy resources that never run out.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Support the 100% Clean Act.

Setting goals is a powerful tool to kickstart a collective endeavor. The 100% Clean Act (HD.3551, SD.2205) would codify a statewide goal for Massachusetts to transition to 100% clean electricity by 2035 and 100% clean heating and transportation by 2045. It lays out clear requirements and actions for the commonwealth to achieve these objectives. I am grateful that Rep. Mindy Domb and Sen. Jo Comerford have cosponsored this bill and hope they do everything they can to see it enacted.

■Support federal tax incentives for clean energy.

Tax incentives are a tried-and-true tool for growing clean energy. When my family chose to go solar a few years ago, knowing that 30% of the up-front cost would be a tax-write off made a big difference in spurring us to invest the rest. And we’re not alone — much of the clean energy growth we’ve seen over the past decade can be traced to these policies. The House of Representatives has already voted to extend clean energy tax credits and it’s time the Senate did the same.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Support building electrification. Electrifying the places we live and work is an important step on America’s path to repower society with clean renewable energy. Burning fossil fuels in residential and commercial buildings causes almost 30% of our country’s global warming pollution and research is increasingly showing that using fossil fuels in appliances like gas stoves can cause dangerous levels of indoor air pollution. Switching to clean, efficient and all-electric technologies will lead to cleaner air and a more liveable climate.

Rewiring America recently published a guide called “Electrify Everything in Your Home” that can be downloaded for free on the Rewiring America website. This guide walks readers through the options they have when thinking about replacing fossil fuel powered appliances with electric ones, how to get started, questions to ask contractors, and more.

Meanwhile, a new guide by my organization, Environment America, put out in partnership with U.S. PIRG, called “Ten Ways Your Community Can Go All-Electric” offers starting points for local elected officials and community members who want to move their community toward all-electric buildings.

You can also urge your members of Congress to support the Zero-Emission Homes Act, which would establish a federal rebate program for electric appliances and other equipment. Rebate programs can make a huge impact by reducing some of the up-front costs that can be a barrier to electrification.

At a time when it can get easy to see all that’s wrong with the world, it’s important to recognize that many problems have solutions. And when it comes to tackling climate change, reducing air pollution, water pollution, gas leaks or explosions, or becoming more locally self-reliant, moving toward 100% renewable energy is a solution we can all play a role in bringing about.

Johanna Neumann, of Amherst, has spent the past two decades working to protect our air, water and open spaces, defend consumers in the marketplace and advance a more sustainable economy and democratic society. She can be reached at
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