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How Climate Change Impacts America’s Energy Infrastructure

As we’ve seen recently with Hurricane Sandy, epic drought, and wildfires, climate change visibly impacts lives and livelihoods throughout the United States. Global warming’s effects extend beyond people, wildlife, and ecosystems, though: They’re threatening America’s energy infrastructure.

Today, I testified on this very subject before the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a hearing entitled “American Energy Security and Innovation: An Assessment of North America’s Energy Resources.” I highlighted the energy risks and opportunities climate change presents, the role that clean energy should play, and actions Congress can take to mitigate global warming’s threats. Excerpts from the testimony are included below, or you can download my full testimony.

Climate Change Threatens Energy Infrastructure

Climate instability directly affects the future security of the U.S. energy sector. For example:

  • Each successive decade in the last 50 years has been the warmest on record globally, and according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, average temperatures will continue to rise. Energy demand is directly impacted by these temperature increases. A recent study in Massachusetts estimates that rising temperatures could increase demand for electricity in the state by 40 percent by 2030.
  • Global sea levels have risen by about 8 inches over the last century, exacerbating the impacts of storm surge. This sea level rise will require increased energy use in the form of additional pumping for drainage and water supply, as well as for the energy-intensive process of desalinization. Additionally, America has more than 280 electric power plants, oil and gas refineries, and other energy facilities located on low-lying lands vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding.

  • More than 65 percent of the continental United States experienced drought last September. Water scarcity has huge implications for America’s power supply. In 2011, more than 85 percent of U.S. electricity generation was produced by power plants fueled by nuclear and fossil fuels, most of which rely heavily on water for cooling. And according to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, 347 coal-fired power plants in 43 states are vulnerable to water supply or demand concerns.

  • In 2012, the United States experienced 11 extreme weather events each causing more than $1 billion in damages. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the Nor’easter that followed, more than 8 million Americans lost power, showcasing volatile storms’ impacts on the reliability of our electricity supply.

But There Is a Solution

The good news is that the United States doesn’t have to choose between energy security and a climate-secure future. The country is rich in clean energy resources and options, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and know-how on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). In fact, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States can meet 80 percent of its electricity needs in 2050 through renewable energy generation using current technology. The United States also has immense potential for improving efficiency throughout the economy. The National Academy of Sciences found that energy efficiency technologies could save 30% of the energy used in the United States.

In fact, transitioning from fossil fuels toward renewable sources (or increased energy efficiency) for electricity generation can lead to significant growth in jobs. One recent study published in Energy Policy found that a 30 percent renewable portfolio standard, combined with aggressive measures to promote energy efficiency, could create more than 4 million jobs by 2030.

It will take investment and effective policies to ensure that this clean energy generation happens at the scale needed. But with the right actions, America can shift to low-carbon sources that increase energy and climate security.

  • LEARN MORE: Find out more about North America’s energy resources and steps Congress can take to boost renewable energy development, by downloading the full testimony.

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