Biden Sees Challenge in Renewable Goals03/03 06:16
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- President Joe Biden wants to change the way the U.S.
uses energy by expanding renewables, but he will need to navigate a host of
challenges --- including the coronavirus pandemic and restoring hundreds of
thousands of lost jobs --- to get it done.
The wind and solar industries have managed to grow despite a
less-than-supportive Trump administration, which favored fossil fuels such as
coal. They have a new ally in the White House in Biden, who has set a goal of
100% renewable energy in the power sector by 2035. Now comes the hard part ---
making it happen.
Disruption from the pandemic has cost the renewable energy industry, which
relies heavily on labor, about 450,000 jobs. The pandemic has also made it more
difficult to build wind and solar infrastructure and has redirected federal
resources away from the energy sector. There's the additional challenge of
getting pro-environment legislation through a deeply divided U.S. Senate where
Democrats hold the narrowest margin possible and have some key members in
fossil fuel states.
To reach Biden's 100% renewable energy goal will require a massive buildout
of grid infrastructure to get energy from the windy plains or offshore wind
farms over long distances to cities where electricity is needed. About a sixth
of today's U.S. electricity generation is from renewable sources, the U.S.
Energy Information Administration has said.
Michael Mann, an American climatologist and geophysicist who directs the
Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said Biden
"campaigned on and has a mandate to act on climate," and that boosts his
prospects of getting tough changes through. However, he said, it's going to be
a fight, and compromises will need to be made.
"We must recognize that Green New Deal-like legislation probably cannot pass
in a divided Congress and climate advocates may need to make some concessions
if we are to see climate legislation in the U.S. over the next couple years,"
Still, the industry is optimistic Biden's ambitious goal can be reached.
"It's doable, but it won't be easy," said Larry Gasteiger, executive
director of WIRES, the transmission industry trade group.
It takes about a decade to get transmission lines planned, sited and built,
he said, so 2035 "may sound like it's a ways off, but it's really not when you
think about all of the infrastructure that's going to need to be built."
It could cost $30 billion to $90 billion over the next decade to build the
transmission infrastructure necessary to connect all the new generation
resources and maintain reliability, according to WIRES.
Biden's presidency --- along with the rise of Democrats in the Senate --- is
widely viewed as a potential boon to a renewables industry that's already
growing, despite the Trump administration's focus on fossil fuels and the
pandemic's challenges to new utility-scale operations. Last year was a record
year for wind and solar power installations.
Some state-level politicians, such as Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills,
started making moves in favor of offshore wind around the time of Biden's
victory. Mills announced in November that the state is planning to help develop
the first floating offshore wind research farm in U.S. history.
And the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced on Feb. 3 that
it's resuming an environmental review of a proposed offshore wind project off
Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said offshore
wind "has the potential to help our nation combat climate change, improve
resilience through reliable power and spur economic development to create
The Biden administration is in a position to accelerate trends toward
renewable energy and away from fossil fuel power, said Dave Reidmiller, a
Maine-based scientist who assisted Biden's transition team in the Office of
Science and Technology Policy.
"Utilities and others kind of see the writing on the wall of where this is
going," Reidmiller said. "I suspect it's no surprise that the Biden
administration has fairly ambitious de-carbonization goals for American
The U.S. has just two working offshore wind farms --- off Block Island in
Rhode Island and off Virginia --- but more than two dozen others are in various
stages of development. The wind power industry and clean energy advocates say
the new administration can make the country an offshore wind power leader.
One way Biden could boost the offshore wind industry would be accelerating
permit procedures. Jeff Berman, manager of emissions and clean energy analytics
at S&P Global Platts, said that would help encourage growth "of a resource that
there isn't very much of in this country."
But one of the clean energy industry's first priorities is to regrow and
even expand jobs, said Matthew Davis, legislative director of the League of
Estimates of employment in the U.S. clean energy sector range from about
700,000 to 3 million jobs. Biden pledged to create 10 million jobs.
"Biden says we need millions more solar roofs, tens of thousands more wind
turbines, getting offshore wind industry off the ground," Davis said. "It's
doable but aggressive, and we're going to be pushing right along the
administration and our allies in Congress to make this happen."
Industry representatives also believe Biden's focus on climate change and
new environmental regulations will make wind and solar more competitive by
reducing their cost relative to fossil fuels.
East Providence, Rhode Island-based ISM Solar, is planning six to eight new
community solar projects in Maine over the next few years, totaling about 30
megawatts --- enough to power more than 10,000 homes.
"The more you clamp down on emissions, the more that will help renewables,"
said the company's vice president, Mike Lucini.
Under Biden, the industry is also banking on more certainty about tax
credits, which analysts say have been major drivers of renewables growth. Tax
credits for wind and solar were extended in the December stimulus bill --- with
Trump's approval --- and wind and solar interests are hopeful they can rely on
long-term extensions in the coming years.
In addition, the industry wants an end of tariffs that cause the U.S. to pay
some of the world's highest equipment prices.
Tariffs on solar components are set to expire in 2022. While it's unclear if
Biden could end those tariffs earlier, Berman of S&P Global Platts said his
administration probably won't extend them --- unlike the Trump administration
which was looking to increase those tariffs as recently as a few months ago.
In Maine, Dirigo Solar co-founder Bob Cleaves said "there's no question the
Trump tariff on solar panels that we've already purchased really slowed down
Biden's administration raised the industry's hopes with a set of executive
actions aimed at tackling climate change on Jan. 27.
"Justice for disadvantaged communities and welcoming legacy energy workers
into the clean power workforce are vital aspects of the success of the clean
energy transition," said Heather Zichal, chief executive officer of the
American Clean Power Association.
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