Climate legislation needs to be priority for coming administration, panel says

Climate change and energy efficiency should be a priority for the next administration, panelists said at this week’s Edison Electric Institute (EEI) 2020 Virtual Leadership Summit.

As climate change comes to the forefront of the national conversation, legislation on a national level is needed to encourage innovation that will move the country toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

Ralph Izzo, chairman, president, and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group, led Wednesday’s panel discussion on the outlook for climate legislation. Joined by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, and Rich Powell, executive director of Clear Path, an organization devoted to finding a way to increase energy efficiency while strengthening the U.S. economy, the energy experts discussed what state and federal lawmakers’ roles should be in advancing cleaner energy.

“At PSEG, we envision a future where people use less energy, even as they do more. The energy that they use is cleaner than ever before. And it’s delivered with a reliability and resiliency that’s unsurpassed,” Izzo said.

Tonko said it was important that the federal government take the lead on how the country can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“I certainly appreciate the work being done at a state level … but we aren’t going to be able to achieve our collective goals through any kind of patchwork approach,” he said.

It was important to establish a federal framework that would set the tone and adopt targets that are science-based in order to achieve success, he said.

Rep. Tonko also addressed the need for flexibility and collaboration.

“The sooner that everyone can come together and agree with the emerging consensus of net-zero by 2050, we can have that more productive conversation about just how we achieve it …,” he said. “I strongly believe that regulated entities are going to know best, how to manage this transition knowing their assets. So, I think we should look to a framework that provides flexibility to allow entities to deal with their unique circumstances.”

For Powell, keeping existing nuclear energy facilities open and embracing natural gas, while being receptive to innovations in technology will be key to achieving the net-zero carbon emissions goal.

“So many electric companies have said, ‘Well, we know how to get a lot of the way there, we know how to get, perhaps, 80 percent of the way there. What’s really missing for us is the technology to get that last leg…,” Powell said. “We cannot allow closures of existing nuclear plants prematurely, before their lifetime. We cannot be taking big steps backward on 24/7 clean energy if we’re going to make it to 80 percent in any meaningful time frame.”

Pointing to Duke Energy’s report that outlined its goals on how to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from electric generation, Powell said it was important that electric companies take the lead on how to reach net-zero so that innovators know there is a marketplace there for them to fill.

Powell said he felt that Congress would come up with a comprehensive energy innovation bill that would be tied to infrastructure and stimulus, but Tonko said with Congress working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic that getting meaningful legislation on the floor has been difficult. And while Tonko said there was a need to provide more certainty in the nation’s tax credits for producing and investing in energy efficiency, he did not expect any movement towards those efforts before 2021.

Liz Carey

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