President-elect Joe Biden can make sweeping changes in energy policy through executive orders, but Republicans can also thwart his energy agenda in Congress.
Eager to advance their agenda under supportive new leadership in Washington, renewable energy groups have released policy wish lists, confident that President-elect Joe Biden's administration can work with what could be a narrowly divided Congress to strengthen renewable energy tax credits, invest in new transmission and establish a national renewable energy portfolio standard.
While Democrats will retain control of the House, runoff elections for Georgia's two Senate seats will determine whether Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell retains his position as majority leader. In that case, two senators — Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia — from the nation's largest coal-producing states could control the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dimming the prospects for sweeping green energy legislation in the upper chamber.
Katherine Hamilton, chair of 38 North Solutions, a lobbying firm, told members of the Energy Storage Association during a Nov. 18 webinar that Biden "has really good relationships on both sides of the aisle," adding that "he's worked with these senators for forever."
"That doesn't mean it's going to be rainbows and unicorns, because Majority Leader McConnell is certainly not in any mood to give anything right now," Hamilton said. "I can't see him just giving a blank check to an incoming Democratic president, but I do think that a President Biden will be able to work with Republicans to get things done."
Current funding for the federal government ends Dec. 11, Hamilton pointed out, and Congress will have to negotiate an omnibus bill that would carry over funding to the end of the year, or possibly into March. The House version of the bill provides funding for a research and development program for energy storage. As for 2021, while Biden has proposed a $2 trillion climate plan, an infrastructure bill provides a more likely vehicle for progress.
With continued deadlock likely in Congress, renewable energy advocates hope that Biden will shift national energy policy through executive orders. Such orders could reverse the Trump administration's regulatory rollbacks on environmental protections, set federal procurement guidelines for renewable energy and encourage renewable energy development on federal lands.
The National Oceanic Industries Association, or NOIA, in a policy document called on the U.S. Interior Department to grant a permit for the proposed 800-MW Vineyard Offshore Wind Project, in development by Avangrid Inc. subsidiary Avangrid Renewables LLC in partnership with Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners K/S. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has again pushed back a deadline for making a decision to Jan. 15.
"While the Department has moved forward in this process, delays have been substantial and to the detriment of domestic energy," NOIA said.
NOIA also called for a renewable energy permitting czar in the White House who can help hasten the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The American Wind Energy Association's 100-day plan asks Biden to make good on his campaign promise to set a national 100% renewable energy standard by 2035.
"Setting a standard, setting a target, is really important for giving people a north star" that will guide resource planning for state governments and businesses, said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the AWEA, in an interview.
Kiernan argues that wind energy has bipartisan support, particularly from lawmakers from states where rural landowners make money off lease payments for wind turbines on their land. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Indiana Sen. Mike Braun and South Dakota Sen. John Thune are among the Republican supporters of wind power, he said.
'A holistic approach'
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association's policy agenda, "The transformation to a clean energy economy will not be limited to increasing electricity generation from clean sources, it will require a holistic approach to infrastructure, transmission, transportation, and many other areas."
"The solar investment tax credit (ITC) is the single most effective current policy available to encourage clean energy deployment," the SEIA said. "In light of obstacles the industry has faced, such as unexpected tariffs on imported solar cells, modules, and steel racking equipment, the end of the Clean Power Plan, and now the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to the increasingly urgent nature of climate action, the phasedown of the ITC must be delayed and replaced with a long-term extension."
A central theme for all the renewable energy trade groups is jobs. With the COVID-19 pandemic still hammering the economy, the renewable energy sector can help jump start a recovery, they said.
The American Council on Renewable Energy released a Nov. 17 letter of must-pass legislation for the lame duck session. Signed by 45 organizations and companies, the letter requested tax breaks and grid investments. Prior to the pandemic, the clean energy sector was poised to add 175,000 jobs across the nation, but now 450,000 clean energy workers are out of work, the letter said.
"At a time when the clean energy sector is struggling to rebound, strong and effective federal support is more important than ever," the letter said. "Unfortunately, many of the current federal incentives are outdated, phasing down, or have expired."