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In an executive order released on December 5, President Barack Obama tripled the mandate for use of renewable sources of energy for federal agencies by 2020.

According to the executive order federal agencies will have to replace 20% of the electricity they use with renewable sources by 2020—up from a 2005 mandate of 7.5% by 2013. This includes all federal agencies both civilian and military.

The new mandate is part of the Obama administration's goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 17% over 2005 levels by 2020.

While the order only applies to federal agencies, this represents a significant boost in the renewables mandate due to the fact that it affects some 500,000 buildings, 600,000 federally operated vehicles for agencies that spend on average $500 billion annually in goods and services.

"The federal government must lead by example" in fighting climate change and transitioning to a clean-energy economy, Obama wrote.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) welcomed the release of the executive order as a "good day for clean energy."

"Renewable energy has become cost-competitive over the years and the quality of innovative clean technologies has dramatically improved.  These are clean, efficient, homegrown resources that we can count on now, and President Obama's public support of renewables in this announcement will serve to further drive their competiveness in the market," EDF noted on its website.

While the renewable energy industry and environmentalists heralded the executive order as a landmark move, groups on the other side of the highly polarized environmental-political divide noted that there were no estimates on how much this mandate would cost taxpayers.

The Washington Post quoted Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, as saying that the mandate would prove too expensive.

"We support an 'all of the above' energy portfolio that makes sense, but shoe-horning renewable technologies that cannot deliver the baseload electricity this country needs does no one any good and puts the American economy at risk," Sheehan said in a statement.

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