President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on aggressive goals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. electric grid by 2035, and then economy-wide by 2050.
The federal government will need a broad range of new programs, projects, regulations and possibly laws to set the nation on a path to reach those goals, with potentially $2 trillion in government spending over the next four years. That will be an uphill battle in Washington, D.C., where Republicans and Democrats remain sharply divided over the country’s energy policies.
But there are many things Biden can pursue through executive orders and regulatory measures, such as streamlining the permitting process for transmission and new renewable energy projects and opening up a lot more federal land for clean energy development, said John Hensley, vice president of research and analytics for the American Clean Power Association.
“There are vast swathes of federal land throughout the West where renewables haven’t been built, in many cases because of siting and permitting issues,” Hensley said. “The Biden administration can do a lot more to prime those lands for renewable development.”
Federal fast-tracking for transmission development will also be key to remove bureaucratic hurdles that have immensely slowed upgrades to current lines and construction of new ones in recent years.
“That aging infrastructure is in dire need of modernization to replace lines, build new ones and expand capacity around the country,” Hensley said. “Faster approval is critical, because today, opposition in just one state can kill regional projects, making it difficult to develop strategic, multi-state transmission corridors needed for renewable energy.”
Biden can also undo many executive Trump decisions that have slowed clean energy development, such as revising tariffs on solar panels and steel and setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles to accelerate deployment of electric cars. New federal building codes and funding to convert heating systems from fossil fuels to electricity could also help cut emissions from homes and businesses, which account for about 14% of U.S. greenhouse gasses.
Biden will need congressional support for things like federal mandates to lower carbon emissions through fees or to set new renewable requirements for electric utilities. Congress must also approve any major funding for climate initiatives.
But bipartisan agreements are possible. In December, for example, Congress approved an array of clean energy initiatives. That included extension of existing tax breaks for wind, solar and carbon-capture projects; a new 30% tax incentive for offshore wind development; and a new mandate for industry to reduce super-warming hydrofluorocarbon emissions by 85% over the next 15 years.
Congress also authorized $40 billion for research and development of natural gas and industrial carbon-capture technology, new systems to directly capture carbon from the air, and next generation nuclear, renewable and storage technologies.
New Mexico hopes to partner with federal agencies on many initiatives, said Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst.
“We’ve had conversations with colleagues across the country on the relationship between the state and federal governments and how we can work together on specific things with the Biden administration and Congress,” Cottrell Propst said. “We can advance things like grid modernization and transportation infrastructure for electric vehicles much more quickly by working in partnership.”