1,000 corporations vs. utility execs: Who is right on 100% clean power?

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News • Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A new blueprint from a billionaire-led coalition that includes some of the nation’s largest corporations is backing ambitious clean energy policies being pushed by President Biden, even as utility executives are expressing doubts about them.

Known as America Is All In, the coalition has more than 1,000 corporate members — including Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc., Google LLC, Microsoft Corp. and Walmart Inc. — as well as three states; 13 counties; and hundreds of cities, universities and faith groups. Chaired by the billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), among others, the group emerged in 2017 as a pro-Paris-deal counterweight to the Trump administration, and has since pivoted to promoting what it calls an “all-of-society” approach to addressing climate change.

Its road map released Monday identified “breakthrough” climate policies that could put the U.S. on track with a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, as sought by President Biden. And it argued for the continued relevance of climate policies made below the federal level.

“In recent years, local leaders across the country stepped up to take on climate change when the White House would not,” said Bloomberg in a recorded speech aired Monday during an unveiling of the report at New York City’s Climate Week conference.

“Today’s report shows that local efforts remain as important as ever,” added Bloomberg, who is also a special envoy on climate ambition for the United Nations secretary-general.

States and cities should require all new buildings to be zero-emissions by 2030, while phasing out gas cars and moving to 100 percent carbon-free power by 2035, it found. Those policies have so far been implemented by a brief list of jurisdictions, often to resistance from fossil fuel industry, real estate developers, the auto industry and utilities.

Corporations and civil society groups should also get involved through steps like training a clean energy workforce, or reaching deals to power facilities with 100 percent zero-carbon electricity, the coalition said.

Most of those same recommendations should be embraced by federal legislators, too, it said, along with an 80 percent reduction in electricity’s emissions by 2030 — a key tenet of the reconciliation bill being considered by Democrats in Congress.

Yet “the size and the fate of that [reconciliation] package are uncertain,” and the bipartisan infrastructure package contains “only a fraction” of the electric vehicle charging funds requested by the Biden administration, noted the blueprint.

Given that uncertainty, states and cities could end up being more than just a temporary test bed for Biden’s climate agenda, and instead become the central overseers of clean energy markets, along with big business and other subnational actors, according to the coalition.

“Without a doubt, the next month or two will be the best chance for some years for the federal government to step up and make a difference on climate,” said Kevin Kennedy, lead author of the blueprint and a senior fellow with the U.S. climate team at the World Resources Institute, one of the coalition’s technical advisers.

But if Congress doesn’t pass the reconciliation bill in coming months, Biden’s goals for clean power wouldn’t necessarily be out of reach, he argued.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s a larger set of players that can have a role, and enable ambition,” he said. Business, in particular, can create a market for low-carbon products, lightening the load for policymakers in subsequent years, according to Kennedy.

Still, many of the biggest corporate members in the coalition, like the Big Four tech companies, also belong to major business associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that are lobbying against the reconciliation measure’s corporate tax raises. That was highlighted by several environmentalist groups last week in a letter that urged CEOs to back the measure (Greenwire, Sept. 16).

States have often been slow to embrace policies that phase out fossil fuels, too. For instance, 15 governors have urged Biden to ban gas-car sales by 2035, but only a few of them — including New York and California — have begun laying out regulations to back up that goal. Even California, a perennial state leader on climate policy, decided to stop short of an all-electric mandate for new buildings, in recent draft rules.

“What we’re very much hoping is that this report really helps put a spotlight on the different types of action, for the coalition’s members,” said Kennedy. “If they want to really step up and be among the top leaders in climate and energy, here are the policy pieces that they should be looking at, in their purview as a city or business or state.”

66% of power executives say no to Biden goals

A separate report, produced by consultancy Deloitte yesterday, revealed plenty of doubters among power industry executives about how the grid and supply chains would fare, if the U.S. lurches toward Biden’s carbon-free goals.

Deloitte’s analysts surveyed more than 40 executives last July, and found that over two-thirds of them weren’t sure that a carbon-free grid was possible by 2035.

More than half of the executives also said that as buildings and cars become more dependent on electricity, power companies might not be able to meet demand in 2035.

And 51 percent of the executives opined that renewable growth would be significantly slowed by shortages of critical minerals in coming years.

Deloitte’s analysts, for their part, concluded that executives’ pessimism was largely unwarranted, given mounting action from industries and policymakers.

“Several of the challenges are difficult and require planning, coordination, and potentially, new policies,” wrote analysts. “And getting [to carbon-free power] by 2035 may be a tall order. But progress will likely continue,” they concluded.