Clean Energy: Plenty to celebrate, more to do in wake of uncertainty
Autumn may have arrived, but this summer will certainly be remembered as one of the hottest across the United States and around the world.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures were above average throughout most of the contiguous U.S. In fact, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Texas all experienced their second-warmest summers on record and 17 other states recorded their top-10 warmest summers.
With extreme heat come concerns about where energy is sourced from, how reliable it is, and its economic and environmental impact. The continuing war in Ukraine has also brought to light the risks associated with increasing geopolitical tensions. Energy supplies to Europe are severely strained due to Russia’s sanctions, and several nations—and even some parts of the U.S.—are now inching towards a “very cold winter,” which could once again exhaust U.S. power grids. The dire consequences of all these challenges are all too painfully visible on most households’ monthly utility bills.
This is the backdrop as leaders in government, business, and climate advocacy convene for the sixth-annual National Clean Energy Week (NCEW) to discuss short- and long-term solutions to address the emerging crises in energy, as well as the ongoing concern over climate change. This year, the virtual NCEW Policy Makers Symposium will convene expert panels and over 20 members of Congress to discuss three overarching themes: Let America Build, Innovation, and Unlock American Resources.
NCEW has always been dedicated to bipartisanship—the events bring together leaders who reflect all perspectives yet share a common mission to advance clean energy. Similarly, it celebrates innovation in a broad array of energy fields—including nuclear, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, natural gas, hydrogen, biomass, carbon capture, storage, and waste-to-energy technologies.
The tremendous progress in America’s clean energy development to date should be celebrated at NCEW, but there are also actions Congress should take as soon as possible to prepare for the problems the nation is likely to face this winter, all of which are among the topics we will be discussing at events this week.
There are many reasons for people to remain hopeful even against unprecedented challenges.
For example, even as our country’s ideological divide seems to be deepening, recent polling strongly suggests that energy and environmental issues unite voters across party lines. Respondents continue to express overwhelming support for commonsense, all-of-the-above policies to reduce emissions —ranging from tax incentives that unleash American Innovation, to streamlining regulations that Let America Build, to Unleashing American Resources by reducing Washington red tape that slows the permitting process.
These changing attitudes reflect the real results of America’s investment in clean energy development and energy innovation. According to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy’s Sustainable Energy in America 2022 Factbook, the U.S. has now surpassed 200 gigawatts of utility-scale clean energy, and energy productivity has increased 16.1 percent over the past decade. The U.S. private-sector invested a record $105 billion in the energy transition in 2021, which followed the Energy Act of 2020—the nation’s first energy innovation package in over a decade. Last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides the necessary funds to support these projects.
Global energy demand continues to grow even as supply is being threatened, so it’s essential that the U.S. accelerate its previously approved energy innovation projects and build out infrastructure as quickly as possible. Congress must focus on cutting red tape and removing unnecessary or redundant obstacles, particularly the federal permitting process. Far too often, desperately needed projects to ensure grid resilience and modernization are delayed for years because of cumbersome and duplicative permitting requirements.
Additionally, state and regional policymakers, along with federal guidance, must continue to prepare utilities for upcoming challenges. Most utilities have already made investments in critical energy infrastructure and are deploying innovative energy technologies, such as new electric transmission and distribution networks. However, game-changing, utility-scale energy storage will be necessary to get the job done over the long term, and in the shorter term, utilities must continue to focus on resilience in the face of extreme weather.
Finally, the U.S. needs to shore up the materials and resources needed for the clean energy transition, especially domestic supply chains, manufacturing, and critical minerals. Utilizing existing technologies like EVs and renewable electricity is an extraordinarily minerals-intensive proposition. Given the threats passed by China and other geopolitical adversaries, it is essential to national security that the U.S. develop its own resources to the greatest extent possible.
These priorities—streamlining permitting, preparing utilities, and securing domestic supplies—can help the U.S. avoid the worst consequences of the emerging energy crisis and the ongoing climate crisis. As NCEW kick-offs in Washington, D.C., and around the country, I encourage concerned citizens to join the discussion and hear from experts as to how we keep the momentum going.
Heather Reams is Chair of National Clean Energy Week (NCEW) and President of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES), a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization founded in 2013 to engage Republican policymakers and the public about responsible, conservative solutions to address our nation’s energy, economic, and environmental security while increasing America’s competitive edge.