Prof. Lave Goes to Washington

Carnegie Mellon Professor Lester B. Lave is stretching his environmental impact beyond the classroom -- all the way to Congress.

He recently testified at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on Energy and Natural Resources in Washington, D.C. regarding an amendment that requires retail sellers of electricity to obtain certain percentages of their electric supply from renewable energy sources.

After outlining both the challenges and feasibility of implementing a renewable electricity standard, Lave urged the Senate Committee to allow alternative technologies to compete in order to achieve the goals of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.

According to Lave, allowing technologies to compete is likely to discover even better ways to meet America's energy need -- in addition to improving environmental quality, increasing energy security and sustainability, and lowering electricity prices.

Lave told the committee:
    My greatest concern for electricity generation is abating carbon-dioxide emissions. Without controls, we will run out of atmosphere before we run out of fossil fuels. The world has used only 6 percent of the 5,000 billion tons of fossil fuels. Burning any appreciable fraction of the coal, oil and natural gas resources will send atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to far greater levels than humans have experienced and lead to major global climate change. Global climate change, not our stock of fossil fuels, limits how much electricity we can generate from these fuels.
The committee proposed that renewable energy should account for 4 percent of the U.S. electricity production by 2011. Industry analysts think that goal can be reached and possibly surpassed, since renewable energy already accounts for nearly 3 percent of the country's electricity production.

In order to help regions with limited wind and solar resources meet the legislative goals at a lower cost, Lave recommended that committee members tighten the definition of efficiency and eliminate the limit on energy contributions.

Lave is the Harry B. and James H. Higgins Professor of Economics and Finance and professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon and also co-directs the university's Electricity Industry Center.

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