Democrats’ infrastructure bills don’t go far enough to clean up the power grid

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In a Tuesday morning call, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rallied Democrats to pass two ambitious bills at the heart of President Biden’s agenda, aiming for a final vote in the House later this week. But the climate provisions of the $ 1.75 trillion budget reconciliation bill that progressives want to pass alongside a bipartisan infrastructure bill are newly uncertain after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) pushed. to further delay the vote at a surprise press conference on Monday.

It’s the latest twist in a long struggle to get Congress to pass meaningful legislation in support of the ambitious climate goals President Biden set when he took office. The reconciliation framework released last week invests $ 555 billion in clean energy, the first major effort to address the The goal of the Biden administration an electricity grid running entirely on carbon-free electricity by 2035. But while this bill and the accompanying infrastructure bill do much to accelerate the growth of clean energy in states -United, experts say these two bills won’t get Democrats through to the end.

“Is that going to be enough?” No, ”says Leah Stokes, associate professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s a very good down payment on the progress we need. “

Most of the White House climate funds framework for the reconciliation bill are $ 320 billion in tax incentives for clean energy technologies. Existing tax incentives for wind and solar energy projects provide individuals and utilities with some relief from federal income tax. A key change in this bill is that it would offer direct compensation as an alternative. This gives utilities more incentive to develop renewable energy projects because they don’t have a lot of federal tax to pay, according to Stokes. There are also new tax credits for batteries and energy storage, microgrid controllers and other carbon reduction technologies. The bill also grants home and building owners discounts for electrification projects.

The reconciliation bill would also devote significant funds to supply chains and infrastructure for future clean energy savings. This includes money to build a whole new offshore wind infrastructure and a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations. Rural communities, which often lack a client base large enough to fund new projects that require a lot of upfront investment, would get nearly $ 10 billion in grants and loans to switch to renewable energy. In addition, $ 20 billion is allocated to encourage governments to purchase next-generation technologies, including modular nuclear reactors, batteries and other means of storing renewable energy for long periods of time.

The reconciliation bill also includes $ 2.8 billion for the site and construction of new transmission lines, which would add to another $ 73 billion the investment in network upgrades is reflected in the separate infrastructure bill. For the grid to run entirely on clean energy, thousands of miles of new transmission lines will need to be built to bring that energy from distant wind and solar farms and hydroelectric dams to where people live.

Ultimately, one of the biggest challenges Democrats face in cleaning up the grid and tackling climate change is getting enough renewable energy online. They will need to bridge a huge gap between the amount of new clean energy produced each year and the amount needed to meet their climate goals. 2020 saw the greatest number of new wind and solar capacities installed, 32GW, in a single year, according to the Energy Information Administration. But between 60 and 70 GW of new clean energy capacity must be added each year over the next several decades, according to a strategy Biden document released on November 1 on how his administration plans to meet its long-term goal of completely reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A clean grid by 2035 is a key milestone on the road. path to net zero emissions by mid-century.

It will be even more difficult to close this gap after Manchin ends a policy that was previously at the heart of the Democrats’ clean energy strategy. The Clean Electricity Performance Program (PEPP) would have paid utilities to use more carbon-free energy and penalized them for sticking to dirty sources, causing utilities to gradually add more clean energy each year. As recent as a CNN Town Hall on October 21, Biden said the CEPP was still on the table – with the caveat that Manchin was against it. By the time its frame was released a week later, the program was gone.

“This is a place where the loss of CEPP really makes it more difficult, because it was going to send a very clear signal nationwide,” said Leah Rubin Shen, policy director of Advanced Energy Economy, an association clean energy companies.

All the back and forth weakens the credibility of the United States at the United Nations climate summit that will take place over the next two weeks. By replacing the CEPP with cleaner energy incentives, the White House still expects the measures in the reconciliation bill to cut “far beyond” 1 gigatonne of greenhouse emissions every year by 2030 so that the United States can meet the commitments it made under the Paris climate agreement.

To help close the gap, Biden could order the EPA to step in with more stringent power plant pollution regulations, as the Obama administration attempted to do. States and municipalities will likely have to help close the federal deficit with their own clean electricity standards. One in three Americans already live in a place that strives for 100% clean energy, according to Stokes. This includes states like Colorado and California, and cities like New Orleans.

“It will continue to be the responsibility of state and local governments to advance the transformation of the electricity sector with the passage of 100% clean electricity laws,” said Sam Ricketts, co-founder and co- director of the nonprofit Evergreen Action which lobbied for CEPP.

Advocates also remain hopeful that federal clean electricity standards may resurface in the future. But that could depend on the long term as the midterm elections break the deadlock in Congress.

“Look, we came very close. We were one senator away from adopting a transformative electricity investment program, ”Stokes said. “It’s closer than we’ve ever been.”


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