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Kate Zerrenner headshot

Any Biden Climate Action Plan Must Focus on Renewables

Recent survey data shows that transitioning to clean energy is by far the most popular climate action strategy in the U.S., with over 65 percent of voting citizens in favor. President Biden's climate plan should keep that in mind.
By Kate Zerrenner
Climate Action

President Joe Biden has given every indication that his administration will take climate action seriously. And a majority of voting Americans agree with that, especially when it comes to advancing clean energy goals, according to a recent survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

While 53 percent of those surveyed felt that climate change should be a high or very high priority for the Biden administration, 66 percent supported developing clean energy sources. Digging a little deeper shows even greater support: 83 percent support creating jobs programs to help unemployed workers from fossil fuel sectors, 82 percent support funding more clean energy research, and 72 percent want the U.S. to transition its economy to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, one of the cornerstones of President Biden’s climate plan.

How some U.S. states have already hit the ground running on climate action

Clean energy has long been an easier sell in certain corners even than other forms of climate action. Two of the top states for renewable energy are Texas and North Carolina. North Carolina ranks second in the U.S., after California, for installed solar generating capacity. Texas, despite being the oil and gas capital of the country, leads in the nation in both installed and under-construction wind generating capacity. In Texas, the wind boom took off when the state created a targeted renewable portfolio standard in 1999, one of the earliest ones in the U.S. The state blew past its initial modest capacity goal and has continued to grow since, accounting for 18 percent of the state’s electricity generated in 2019.

Renewable energy has been a boon for the states that have encouraged and supported it. About 113,000 people are employed in the renewable energy sector in North Carolina, which added another 1,800 jobs in 2019. Texas had about 254,000 people working in renewable energy in 2019. While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the renewable energy sector hard, as with the case of many other sectors, jobs are expected to rebound once the Biden Administration’s policies begin to take effect and the pandemic (eventually) recedes.

Further, in addition to the well-documented benefits to air quality from renewable energy, technologies such as wind and solar create market opportunities for both businesses and community development efforts. Most renewable energy sources are also no- or low-water, so they are better able to preserve water supplies for other uses like municipal and agricultural needs.

In states like Texas, as well as developing a more diverse energy portfolio, renewables can also help diversify local economies. The state has long been dependent on oil and gas revenue to fill its coffers. New streams of revenues can allow for less volatility in public finances and more opportunities for boosting private investment with public investment.

What a new plan to tackle climate change will look like

Even in a low-regulation state like Texas, the renewable energy portfolio standard enacted by the state’s legislature enabled the wind market to grow and thrive in Texas. Regulations create market certainty that, if done well, foster private investment and development. Effective regulations should also consider the needs of affected communities, both in terms of job loss or creation and air quality and other health benefits. More than ever, policies must be crafted in a way to address past deficiencies or injustices and lay the groundwork for innovation and investment in the context of climate action.

On Thursday, The Department of Energy (DOE) announced its new leadership team, comprised of highly-qualified engineers, lawyers, and policy experts on issues such as energy jobs, energy justice, and public engagement. DOE is a technical agency, which oversees several national labs across the country. Policy formulation related to climate action will require partnerships with state, local, and tribal governments and with industry in order to be effective.

But climate action plans and renewable energy investments require more than technical solutions. In order to address climate change and engage industry and communities successfully, the solutions must be integrated throughout the government, not siloed into one agency. Right now, it appears that is the goal of the new administration.

It’s all about embedding and integrating

Climate goals and solutions must be embedded and integrated throughout agency budgets and regulations in order to be effective. To that end, Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen hopes to establish a climate hub in her Treasury Department, and the Department of Agriculture has announced a new senior climate advisor position. Much like in a corporation, sustainability efforts are most effective when they are part of the operations instead of a standalone initiative; hence the same approach toward climate action must be the same in the federal government if it will be set up for success.

The Biden administration has signaled that has plans to embark on climate action seriously. The sentiment is already there: Clean energy is a central solution to any climate change plan and is already supported by a majority of Americans. Emphasizing the economic benefits and opportunities of investing in clean energy could help bring more people to the table.

Solving the climate crisis will require everyone to take action, and well-crafted policies are the first step to spurring innovation and investment in sustainable solutions.

Image credit: PxHere

Kate Zerrenner headshot

Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.

Read more stories by Kate Zerrenner