Tag Archives: renewable energy

The shortest explanation of the USA’s Clean Power Plan you are ever likely to see

The Clean Power Plan proposed by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been floating in the news, but it’s a pretty big document to digest all at once. Here we’ll share what it aims to do and how, and what stage it is at right now.

The goals of the Clean Power Plan are to:

  • Protect the health of American families by preventing up to 3,600 premature deaths, preventing 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and preventing 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays. These deaths and illnesses are largely attributable to climate- and pollution-related threats.

  • Save American families money (nearly $85 a year in 2030).

  • Boost renewable energy generation by making up to 30% more renewable energy generation in 2030, lowering the costs of renewable energy, and creating jobs.

  • Provide benefits to low-income, minority, and tribal communities.

  • Mitigate the significant costs it expects to incur when faced with “unchecked” climate change.

So why is this plan needed? It addresses carbon pollution, which is the biggest driver of climate change. Electricity and transportation are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

What does the plan intend to do?

While the EPA sets the goals, each state, tribe, and territory makes its own final plan and that it consults with a reliability or planning agency when it does so.

The plan was announced in August 2015. So where is the plan at now? In February, 2016, the Supreme Court decided that the Clean Power Plan is pending judicial review. The decision on the case can be made as early as July 2016 and no later than February 2017.

There are several legal issues with the Clean Power Plan that merit review. Some of them are:

  • Violation of the 10th Amendment. The Clean Power Plan “tramples” on States’ rights.

  • Violation of the 5th Amendment. The Clean Power Plan confiscates property without due process or just compensation.

Opposition came from states West Virginia — a major coal producer — and Texas –a major oil producer –as well as from various business groups (e.g. U.S.Chamber of Commerce) and utilities (e.g. American Electric Power Co., Southern Co., Peabody Energy Corp.).

Because the Clean Power Plan is a deeply partisan issue, it is likely that its approval will be decided after the presidential election, when a new Justice will be selected (following the death of Scalia). On the one hand, some groups point out that many states have already begun a shift toward renewable energy and that they do not need the plan to do so. On the other hand, a rejection of this plan indicates a lack of responsibility for climate change and carbon emissions — a continuation of Kyoto-era affairs. The EPA, at least, would like the USA to lead on the issue of climate change, in contrast to its past. “The Clean Power Plan is changing the international dynamic, and leveraging international action because when the U.S. [sic] leads, other nations follow. U.S. [sic] action has helped spur announcements from China, Brazil, and Mexico to limit their emissions or increase RE deployment.

How can climate change increase the risks to your business?

While climate change is becoming slowly but increasingly on the minds of big businesses, small- and medium-sized enterprises or businesses (SMEs) appear on a spectrum of their awareness and attention to climate change. Many green businesses pride themselves on doing good for the planet — either in their attention to locally sourced products, to organic produce, in their use of renewable energy, or in their reduction of waste. Many of these green businesses may not explicitly want to address climate change, but they are aware of it and see taking care of the planet as addressing climate change in addition to a variety of other environmental problems.

There are also SMEs that are only just realising that climate change not only poses a problem to our countries, our cities, and us as individuals, but that they may have effects upon their businesses as well. In 2006, 45% of small businesses thought that climate change is blown out of proportion, and 26% thought it was a real threat to them. A different study conducted by the same company (AXA) found that by 2015, 27% of SMEs were focusing on adapting their businesses to be more resilient and that 53% even thought climate change represented an opportunity for their business.

SMEs still struggle with finding access to resources that help them deal with the impacts of climate change.

Here we unpack some of the biggest ways SMEs can be affected by climate change.

Climate change impact

Everyone will be affected by changes in climate differently, and SMEs have to adapt to the unique conditions they are faced with. Most generally, climate change is likely to cause building and infrastructure damage, interruptions to services and potential damage to infrastructure, and interruptions to supply chains.

In the UK, SMEs will have to adapt to drier summers and wetter winters, as well as potential flooding, and hotter weather. In winter, this may mean less spent on heating, but also means businesses will have to be prepared for emergencies like floods or other damp-related things, such as mould.

SMEs, depending on where they are located in the USA, could experience anything from drought in California to flooding and more rain in the northeast. According to the director of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, “Climate-related changes in ocean ecosystems are affecting the nation’s marine species and the people, businesses and communities that depend on them.”

SMEs in Australia are also subject to a wide variety of potential impacts. SMEs relying on sharing the richness of the ecological “hotspot” that is Western Australia may be affected by severe impacts to the unique species in the area. SMEs in Queensland have to contend with a lower water supply and an increase in the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones.

Canadian SMEs also have to contend with an increase in extreme events.

Worldwide, resource misuse and scarcity in combination with the effect of climate change on crops (which not only supply the foods we eat but the materials we produce) will result in higher prices for many goods. SMEs will be challenged to find creative ways to reduce their own consumption of certain goods and materials while having to satisfy customers’ expectations. Industries that support SMEs, such as the insurance industry, are already experiencing stresses due to climate change, and changing circumstances in their own businesses are likely to affect SMEs. Many events that are likely to be caused by climate change and to affect SMEs, such as flooding, are considered uninsurable, which means that SMEs will bear the brunt of having to protect themselves against future damage.

SMEs get a varying amount of support from their local governments, depending on how well developed programmes and initiatives surrounding climate change are developed. Some cities are better able to help SMEs because they have more advanced climate change initiatives. Adaptation Scotland has “SME Info Notes” to help small businesses meet their climate change challenges.

Market risk

Businesses face risks that come from increasing and increasingly volatile prices of oil, gas, and electricity. While big businesses have to worry about replacing their own or suppliers’ entire power plants, or fitting hundreds of buildings with solar panels, SMEs don’t have that worry. They can even buy solar panels at IKEA! Although there may be an initial effort to find and install a renewable source of energy, the effort is well worth it for an SME, in terms of greater energy independence, cost savings, and energy efficiency.


Photo by “10 10”, January 27 2015. Available under Creative Commons license.

Reputational risk

Consumers and other businesses are becoming a lot more demanding of the businesses they engage with. Although it may be difficult to prove a decrease in customers due to not addressing climate change or being otherwise “sustainable”, businesses that pride themselves on addressing such concerns often attract a loyal — and loud — following.

This article was edited on 14 March, 2016 to include the effect of climate change on Alaskan fisheries.