Written by Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, and Gerry Anderson, executive chairman of DTE Energy and vice chairman of the Edison Electric Institute.
The extreme storms and blackouts in Texas have focused Americans on two urgent priorities: the need for resilience in the face of climate change and the need for reliable electricity. The truth is we must generate reliable power while cutting climate pollution. The good news is, we have the technology to do both.
A reliable electric grid will require investment and modernization – that must be a key element of the upcoming infrastructure legislation. We also strongly believe Washington must help move the country to clean energy. President Joe Biden has pledged to put the U.S. on track to achieving a 100% clean energy economy, reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors no later than 2050 — and ambitious climate action has broad public support.
In December, Congress passed a sweeping bipartisan spending package that authorizes billions of dollars for investments in renewable energy, vital energy R&D, grid modernization and energy efficiency. Promising advancements are also taking place on the ground, with carbon emissions down significantly in the electricity sector due to more renewable energy generation, greater efficiencies, and a sharp shift from coal to cleaner sources.
All this is real progress. But the climate crisis demands that the U.S. accelerate climate action. And for that to happen, Congress will need to lead alongside the Biden administration.
To help shape a bipartisan agenda for the 117th Congress, a roundtable of leaders from the electric utility sector, environmental organizations, and energy think tanks has been meeting regularly since March 2020.
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The roundtable’s members share the goal of achieving a net zero and ultimately a zero-emission power sector as rapidly as possible, and securing the near-term reductions consistent with that pathway, while also ensuring an affordable, reliable electric supply.
Achieving fundamental reductions in the power sector would be a vital step toward President Biden’s goal of net zero emissions across the entire economy. Despite significant reductions in recent years, electricity generation accounts for roughly one-quarter of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, achieving deep cuts in emissions from sectors such as transportation (the nation’s leading source of emissions) and buildings will involve connecting them to a clean electric grid. GM’s recent announcement that it will sell only electric vehicles by 2035 makes this imperative clear.
But the private sector cannot achieve this ambitious and essential feat alone. Well-designed government policies are needed to accelerate smart deployment of wind and solar energy, drive zero-carbon technology innovation, and ensure the needed cuts in emissions.
Those policies should encourage the development of a range of technologies that will provide optionality and a more resilient solution set, while creating certainty that emissions outcomes will be achieved at the pace and scale necessary.
Significant and sustained increases in federal funding for research and development can spur necessary technological advancements like carbon capture and storage, advanced nuclear, hydrogen, long-duration battery storage and advanced zero-carbon generation options.
Members of the roundtable are working to create a broadly agreed upon path forward. This includes engaging directly and openly with other environmental organizations, environmental justice groups, labor, the Edison Electric Institute, and other utilities and electricity companies.
We believe this work is particularly important because of the positive impact it can begin to have for communities that have long faced an unjust burden of pollution, particularly communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. With well-designed policies that recognize and take steps to address this legacy of inequity, we can make progress cleaning up the air in our most disproportionately impacted communities—while also securing essential reductions in greenhouse gas pollution. We have reached out to leaders of environmental justice organizations to inform the roundtable’s understanding and actions, and we’re committed to deepening that discussion going forward.
A cleaner electricity grid and healthier communities will not be reached by working in silos. Rather, it requires a robust partnership between leaders with a shared vision and goals. Many companies and organizations have committed to achieving a more prosperous low-carbon future, and we can see clearly what it will take to get there. What we need is that same clarity and pragmatism in public policy to allow us to achieve this ambitious goal.