Where Did President Obama Get His 40% “Clean Energy” Number From?


    In hist State of the Union speech last night, President Obama said: “by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.” The White House’s detailed fact sheet on this point adds that, “Currently, 40 percent of our electricity comes from clean energy sources,” and that President Obama is calling for that figure to double by 2035.

    Sounds great, but where did President Obama get the 40% “clean energy” figure for current U.S. electricity production?  I mean, heck, I worked at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for 17 years crunching numbers, and even I’m completely confused. Let’s review.

    For electricity generation, EIA’s stats for 2009 are here.

    Coal: 1,764,486 million KWh (44.6% of total U.S. electricity generation)

    Natural Gas: 930,378 million KWh (23.5%)

    Nuclear: 798,745 million KWh (20.2%)

    Hydro: 272,131 million KWh (6.9%)

    Wind: 70,761 million KWh (1.8%)

    Petroleum: 38,827 million KWh (1.0%)

    Wood: 36,243 million KWh (0.9%)

    Waste: 18,093 million KWh (0.5%)

    Geothermal: 15,210 million KWh (0.4%)

    “Other gases”: 10,698 million KWh (0.3%)

    Solar/PV: 808 million KWh (0.02%)

    TOTAL: 3,953,111 million KWh

    So…how do we get to 40% “clean energy” from these numbers?  Hydro, wind, wood, waste, geothermal and solar/photovoltaics add up to about 10.5%. Add in nuclear – highly debatable whether it counts as “clean energy” – and we get to about 31%. We’re still not to 40%. So, adding in natural gas (23.5%) gets us to about 55% — way over 40%. But of course, natural gas is a non-renewable fossil fuel, certainly not “clean energy” by almost anyone’s standards. But even if you count natural gas, you still don’t get the 40% figure President Obama cited; instead, you get 55%. So, what’s going on here?  Got me, I’m baffled. Any ideas?

    P.S. And no, “clean coal” doesn’t count as “clean energy” either. If that’s the case, then everything counts as “clean energy” and the term loses all meaning.

    UPDATE: The only thing I can guess here is that the White House is counting “clean coal and efficient natural gas” as part of their “clean energy” 40% number. The only problem is, there isn’t any “clean coal” right now, and does anyone have a clue what “efficient natural gas” means exactly?  


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