Renewable energy industry commits to Biden’s 50 percent greenhouse gas reduction target

At a virtual climate summit Thursday, President Joe Biden made the ambitious announcement of a new U.S. greenhouse gas pollution reduction target, aiming to cut 50 percent of emissions by 2030, when compared to 2005 levels.

In the wake of the news, the energy industry rallied behind the news, which would amount to more than double the country’s prior commitment under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Although it would require major work in the energy and transportation sectors, major groups including the American Clean Power Association (ACP), American Gas Association (AGA), Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) all saw such goals within reach.

“Meeting the NDC (nationally determined contribution) will require the participation of every sector of the U.S. economy, along with new technologies and supportive policies that are resource- and technology-inclusive, flexible, and equitable,” Tom Kuhn, EEI president, said. “EEI’s member companies—America’s investor-owned electric companies—are committed to getting the energy we provide as clean as we can as fast as we can, without compromising the reliability or affordability that our customers value. We are leaders in reducing carbon emissions and are integral to the climate solution. We will continue to push for ambitious reductions in carbon emissions in the decade ahead.”

Kuhn also stressed the importance of advocating innovation and building up critical transmission and energy grid infrastructure fast, as changes accelerate. Electrification, he said, can help reduce emissions cost-effectively across the American economy, but particularly in the industrial and transportation sectors.

The EPRI put some context to the new national pledge, assessing that despite the challenges involved, the technical expertise is out there, and the reduction goals are within reach. However, Biden’s new goal amounts to a 2 gigaton reduction in annual, energy-related U.S. CO2 emissions within the decade. That would amount to triple the rate of reduction achieved between 2005 to 2020.

“Because other sectors, such as transportation, buildings, and industry, could largely reduce carbon emissions through electrification, the power sector will play a crucial role in achieving the administration’s 2030 economy-wide goal,” EPRI President and CEO Arshad Mansoor said. “The power sector has an early lead in the race to decarbonize, but every sector must cross the finish line to be successful. Near-term decisions and actions — from policy to regulation to technology deployment — will be crucial to drive economy-wide decarbonization in the decade ahead.”

The organization also looked beyond 2030, though, and noted that to maintain additional carbon reduction, it will take commitment to low-carbon resources: hydrogen, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture utilization and storage. EPRI has already launched the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative in collaboration with the Gas Technology Institute and more than 40 other organizations to promote this and to outline the paths to further economy-wide decarbonization.

Even older hands in the industry, such as the natural gas sector, have pledged to be part of the solution, even as they reckon with the complex challenge of climate change. That sector added more than 788,000 miles of pipeline between 1990 and 2019, yet according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it managed to reduce annual emissions over that period by 69 percent. The federal government is moving to cut those emissions still further, with a new, $35 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) led program to develop methane emissions reduction technologies.

“America’s natural gas utilities will make a meaningful contribution to achieving the vision laid out by President Biden today to continue to drive down emissions in our nation and throughout the world,” Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the AGA, said. “The natural gas industry has a proven track record of reducing emissions and we will continue to collaborate with local policymakers, federal regulators, Congress, and this administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through smart innovation, new and modernized infrastructure, and advanced technologies that maintain reliable, resilient, and affordable energy service choices for consumers. Last year, AGA released our Climate Change Position Statement that includes ten commitments for reducing emissions and eight principles for an effective national policy approach to addressing climate change.”

Filling out the pack was the renewables sector. Organizations like ACP labeled the new policy ambitious, and immediately responded with calls for the tools, technology, energy, and climate policies, expedited permitting, tax and trade policies, and more to make it all work quickly and smoothly. ACP CEO Heather Zichal made the industry sound not only accepting but eager for the commitment, labeling the new target as a rifle shot for action.

“Today’s announcement is an ambitious north star for where we need to go, and our industry is proof that we can get there in a way that grows our economy,” Zichal said. “The Biden NDC demonstrates that we are serious about climate change and committed to restore our international leadership to address it. But no target, no number, and no pledge can convey the enormous domestic opportunities that await us. Clean energy will pave the way for deep carbon emissions reductions across the economy, powered by the jobs of tomorrow here today. An ambitious target requires equally ambitious policy to achieve it.”

Yet from the top down, the cost of failure was made clear.

“This is the decisive decade,” Biden said at the Earth Day summit. “This is the decade that we must make decisions to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”

Chris Galford

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