The new renewables group in town

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Monday, December 21, 2020

Heather Zichal is hoping that with the new American Clean Power Association, the renewable energy industry can speak with one voice and become a bigger lobbying power in Washington, at a time when the incoming Biden administration will be looking for ways to boost clean energy.

Zichal, who advised President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign and served as a top climate official in the Obama White House, joined the American Clean Power Association as its CEO earlier this month. The trade group, an expansion of the American Wind Energy Association, formally launches Jan 1.

“Our industry is growing, and the increased size, scope, and budget of ACP is going to be a reflection of that reality,” Zichal told Abby in a recent interview. The new trade group will represent every faction of the renewable energy industry, including not just wind and solar power, but also energy storage, clean energy utilities, transmission companies, and corporate renewable energy buyers.

Zichal says ACP is “well-positioned” to partner with the Biden administration, especially as Biden looks to link addressing climate change with creating jobs.

In a report unveiled last week with Wood Mackenzie, ACP argues reaching a 50% renewable energy grid by 2030 could create nearly 1 million jobs. The report found administrative action alone, such as setting renewable energy targets on federal lands and speeding up permitting of renewable power, could lead to 37% renewables on the grid.

Policy priorities for Biden: Zichal said ACP is still in the process of identifying policy priorities for the Biden team. In the short term, she said, Biden will have to grapple with undoing decisions made by the Trump administration, such as policies that have slowed offshore wind development and weaker fuel economy standards that she said ACP’s energy storage members track closely.

Building out more transmission to carry wind and solar power from where it is generated to population centers is certainly a “front and center” issue for ACP, Zichal said. (ACP’s recent report identifies a need for up to $90 billion to upgrade transmission lines to move more renewable power).

But Zichal added that she’s learned in her short time with ACP that renewable energy’s challenges “run the gamut,” such as trade policy and regulations at the Interior Department involving offshore wind.

“Right now, I don’t want to put one of those things in front of the other because I think what we have learned from the growing body of scientific evidence about climate change is that we need to move as quickly and as effectively as we can to deploy renewables,” she said.

What about the Hill? Zichal said she sees opportunities to work with Republican lawmakers on policies to boost renewable power, especially as a job creator as more red states see booming wind and solar industries.

“Everybody’s coming to realize that as a trillion dollar industry, we have a lot to bring to the table,” she said.

Zichal also dismissed complaints from some Republican lawmakers that bringing more renewable energy on the grid jeopardizes electric reliability. Those lawmakers have blamed California’s rolling blackouts over the summer on its increasing reliance on variable solar and wind power.

“Reliability is a very real issue and one that we take seriously,” Zichal said, but she added that the industry is working to put the right set of policies and technology in place to ensure the lights stay on.

“Over time, we are confident that from a technology perspective, this is something that is solvable,” she added.