A coalition of environmental groups and technology companies is asking the U.S. federal government to buy power from carbon-free sources on a 24/7 basis, a request the coalition said goes beyond merely purchasing enough clean electricity to total all of the government's energy needs.
Doing so would help the Biden administration meet its goal to decarbonize U.S. power generation by 2035, the organizations and companies said, with the federal government the biggest purchaser of electricity in the world.
"The federal government can accelerate the creation of a carbon-free electricity sector by adopting strong targets for federal facilities to procure around-the-clock clean energy," a coalition of two dozen clean air organizations, think tanks and technology companies, including Google LLC, said in a March 30 letter to President Joe Biden.
Adopting "higher-impact carbon-free federal electricity procurement" would align with the administration's objective of using the federal government's $500 billion-per-year procurement spending to drive toward 100% clean energy, the letter said.
Biden has made decarbonizing the power sector a key piece of his ambition to achieve net-zero U.S. greenhouse gas emissions economywide by 2050. As part of that effort, Biden issued an executive order Jan. 27 that called for the federal government to "use all available procurement authorities to achieve or facilitate … carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035."
The order also directed the heads of federal agencies to "identify opportunities for federal funding to spur innovation, commercialization and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure."
The March 30 letter recommended that to meet the order's mandates, the government should implement "higher-impact carbon-free federal electricity procurement" that focuses on "purchasing new clean resources to secure a round-the-clock clean energy supply to decarbonize electricity consumption in each hour and on each regional grid where electricity consumption occurs."
Such an approach contrasts with "traditional clean electricity procurement" that involves purchasing power or environmental attributes from renewable resources located far from consumption and that does not coincide with when the government consumes electricity, the letter said.
By relying on hourly clean energy procurement, the government can reduce reliance on fossil fuel generation even when adequate renewable resources are not available and can spur innovation and deployment of carbon-free energy technologies, the letter said. Such a policy will "send a powerful market signal" to invest in new clean energy resources and create greater opportunities to reduce pollution in disadvantaged communities, which would help fulfill the Biden administration's environmental justice efforts, the groups and companies concluded.
They recommended that Biden have agencies set targets for time- and location-based procurement of clean electricity to achieve "100% carbon-free electricity consumption on an hourly basis as soon as possible." The groups also asked the administration to establish a process to create interim targets and guidance on implementation methodologies and to ensure the economic and public health associated with clean energy deployment "are realized equitably by all regions and communities across the country."
The letter was signed by 24 groups and companies including Google, Adobe Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., AES Corp., the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Clean Air Task Force, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Hydropower Association, Third Way and the U.S. Energy Storage Association.
The request reflects corporations' growing preference to buy electricity directly from wind and solar power facilities amid mounting pressure from investors to consider environmental, social and governance issues. In 2020, corporations purchased a record 23.7 GW of renewable power globally, according to a report by BloombergNEF.
Biden and congressional Democrats will be focused in the months ahead on a broad infrastructure package that is expected to include climate and clean energy provisions. Depending on how Biden's Democratic allies in Congress advance the legislation, it could contain more sweeping measures such as a national clean electricity standard or funding for federal clean energy procurement.