By Matthew Daly
WASHINGTON — Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020.
Obama said the plan to use renewables for 20 percent of electricity needs will help reduce pollution that causes global warming, promote American energy independence and boost domestic energy sources such as solar and wind power that provide thousands of jobs.
The order is part of the president’s wide-ranging, second-term drive to combat climate change and prepare for its effects. A plan announced in June would put first-time limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, boost renewable energy production on federal lands and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.
The directive on renewable energy applies to all federal agencies, civilian and military. The Defense Department previously set a goal that 25 percent of its energy needs should be supplied by renewable energy by 2025.
Federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent since he took office in 2009, Obama said, but the government can do better.
The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the nation and “must lead by example,” Obama said. The government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates 600,000 vehicles and buys more than $500 billion a year in goods and services.
The government has a goal of using 7.5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, but Obama said recent increases in renewable energy supplies make the new 20 percent goal achievable by 2020.
His order said the government should use renewable sources for 10 percent of its electricity in 2015 and gradually increase that amount to 20 percent within seven years.
Environmental groups hailed the announcement, which they said would help kick-start clean energy initiatives across rural America.
The directive shows the government can “lead by example when it comes to smart energy policies,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters.
A group representing major American coal producers and utility companies said the plan will increase energy costs and is unworkable for private companies and states that do not have the government’s purchasing clout.
“Shoe-horning renewable technologies that cannot deliver the base-load electricity this country needs does no one any good and puts the American economy at risk,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group.
The Obama administration repeatedly has failed to acknowledge the negative consequences of replacing coal-fueled electricity, Sheehan said, “and now our federal government will become a model for bad policy.”
The order also requires agencies to install energy meters and water maters where appropriate to monitor efficiency and to publicly disclose energy performance data through the Energy Department.
The White House did not provide an estimate for how much money, if any, the proposal would save during the next decade.
The order on renewable energy is one of several steps the administration is announcing this week on energy efficiency.
On Tuesday, officials announced a plan to cut energy waste at multifamily housing such as apartments and condominiums and released a 2014 fuel economy guide to help motorists choose fuel-efficient vehicles.
As part of the administration’s push to expand renewable energy, the Pentagon last year committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes.