Even if Democrats fail to win Georgia’s two seats in the U.S. Senate, giving Republicans an opening to block major legislation, President-elect Joe Biden could still take action in a number of areas.
The twin goals of any actions a President Biden might take will be the creation of union jobs in the clean energy sector and achieving 100% clean energy generation by 2035. Neither will be easy, especially the 100% clean energy target. “It’s challenging to see how net-zero will be achievable without meaningful technological advancements,” wrote analysts at Tudor, Pickering and Holt, an investment bank, on Monday morning. Yet even if that goal is not achieved, they added, “the mere pursuit of net-zero will almost certainly re-shape the US energy landscape and further accelerate renewable generation.”
Here are five things a President Biden could do to advance renewable energy.
Roll back President Trump’s executive orders. Early in his term, President Trump issued an executive order that called for eliminating regulations related to climate change, including former President Barack Obama’s flagship Clean Power Plan. It’s now among a number of executive orders that President-elect Biden could rescind soon after taking office — even if fully restoring the Clean Power Plan would be a heavier lift.
Biden could also direct federal agencies to stop pursuing some of the legal efforts that the Trump administration has backed, including efforts to expand tariffs on some types of imported solar panels and a fight against California and other states over the administration’s proposed rollback of fuel economy standards.
Appoint renewable energy advocates to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC may not get much attention, yet it shapes the fortunes of everything from coal plants to solar farms. The White House nominates FERC’s five commissioners, and until a surprise shake-up a few days ago the head FERC commissioner was Neil Chatterjee, a former Mitch McConnell staffer and a coal bailout proponent. Appointing commissioners who are friendly to renewable energy could mean an end to FERC orders such as the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR), which placed constraints on bids by state-subsidized renewable energy sources into lucrative pools of cash known as capacity markets. The wonky policy is dreaded by renewable power firms.
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Even if Democrats fail to gain a majority in the Senate, imperiling Biden’s efforts to pass much-touted clean energy legislation that calls for 100% clean energy by 2035, Biden appointees on FERC’s board could ensure that other initiatives, including those at the state level, get a green light.
Include clean energy in an infrastructure bill. Passing a major infrastructure bill is likely to be near the top of President-elect Biden’s agenda after he is sworn in, not least because it could be among the few areas of agreement between the White House and a potentially Republican-controlled Senate.
The Biden transition team’s recently launched “Build Back Better” website calls for building 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units, upgrading four million buildings and weatherizing two million homes over four years, investing in ailing electricity grids and universal broadband, ensuring every city with more than 100,000 people has zero-emissions public transit options, and commercializing new technologies such as next-generation building materials, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear reactors.
Review tariffs imposed by President Trump. Tariffs on solar panels soared under President Trump as he sought to protect the U.S. solar manufacturing industry, even as solar panel installers faced extra costs. President-elect Biden would likely end efforts to impose more tariffs and could some revoke existing ones. But he is also likely to stop short of sweeping them away: experts point out that Biden’s clean energy plan calls for spurring domestic manufacturing, and the tariffs could already be contributing to that goal.
Revoke a key permit for the Keystone X.L. Pipeline. Biden said in May that if he won he would rescind a key permit that allows the controversial Keystone X.L. pipeline to cross from Canada into the U.S. Vetoed by Obama only to be revived under President Trump, the planned 830,000 barrel-per-day oil pipeline began construction in earnest only a few months ago when workers arrived in Oyen, a town in the Canadian province of Alberta. By getting the project underway, Alberta premier Jason Kenney was betting that Biden would be hard-pressed to follow through on his pledge if it meant halting a work-in-progress. Yet Biden has given no signs of backing off from his pledge.