How President Obama Wants To Shrink The Government's Carbon Footprint With hundreds of thousands of buildings and vehicles, the government is the nation's single biggest energy consumer.
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How President Obama Wants To Shrink The Government's Carbon Footprint

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How President Obama Wants To Shrink The Government's Carbon Footprint

How President Obama Wants To Shrink The Government's Carbon Footprint

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

President Obama wants to shrink the federal government's carbon footprint. With 360,000 buildings and 650,000 vehicles, the government is the nation's single largest energy consumer. Obama signed an executive order today directing agencies to get more of their power from clean energy sources.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're going to cut the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from the 2008 levels within the next ten years.

GONYEA: The government is already nearly halfway there, thanks in part to a boom in wind and solar energy. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama announced his executive order this morning after climbing to the rooftop of the U.S. Energy Department where he inspected 66 flat, square solar panels.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: Those panels are not just for show. They produce power so that the government doesn't then have to buy off the grid.

HORSLEY: The federal government now gets nearly 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources - triple the amount when Obama came into office. The president wants to more than triple that figure again by 2025.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: More and more businesses and more and more homeowners are following suit.

HORSLEY: Nationwide, wind energy production has more than tripled since 2008, while solar power has increased more than 20-fold. The two still account for less than 5 percent of overall power production, but that figure is growing rapidly. Renewable power got an unlikely Republican boost this week. Former Secretary of State George Shultz penned an op-ed in The Washington Post calling clean energy a kind of insurance policy against the threat of climate change.

GEORGE SHULTZ: What's driving it is an increasing recognition that there's a real problem here, and that has attracted people and it's also attracted funding.

HORSLEY: Shultz put solar panels on his own home six years ago and says they've already paid for themselves. They also help to power the electric car he uses to drive around campus at Stanford.

SHULTZ: I figure I'm driving on sunshine and the cost of my fuel is zero.

HORSLEY: Energy expert Severin Borenstein of UC Berkeley says without government subsidies, solar power still costs two to four times as much as electricity from a natural gas power plant, but that price gap is shrinking and wind power is even less expensive.

SEVERIN BORENSTEIN: Per kilowatt hour, wind power is now cheaper than gas plants in many areas. The problem is that it produces at a time when electricity is generally least valuable.

HORSLEY: That's because it's often windiest at nighttime. Improvements in battery technology might help solve that timing problem. Advocates like Schultz and Borenstein also argue renewable energy would be more competitive if fossil fuel plants had to pay a carbon tax. In the meantime, Obama wants the government to set an example. Borenstein says what really counts is whether the government's own massive buying power helps lower the cost of clean energy enough to be attractive in countries like China and India.

BORENSTEIN: Because if we don't solve this problem in the developing world, we're not solving the problem.

HORSLEY: Negotiators hope to strike an international climate agreement in Paris later this year. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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