Clean Energy and The White House’s Proposed “American Jobs Plan”

The new administration unveiled an 8-year “American Jobs Plan” proposing an investment of $2.25T with a prominent focus on clean energy. If you like the idea of cleaner air in your community, American-made energy, and high-skilled jobs that can’t be outsourced, this plan may be for you!

The Job(s) At Hand

The Biden Administration recently made some big waves in the clean energy space. In April 2021, it proposed a $2T+ investment made over the next eight years. It’s an incredible document, one we haven’t seen since the days of the economic collapse of 2009. David Roberts wrote a fantastic article detailing the proposed clean energy attributes of the plan.

Some asked about my thoughts on this plan. Is it perfect? No. But as a clean energy nerd, here are a few brief points I’d like to emphasize.

Did He Say “Trillion”?

Yes, $2T is a huge number. But it’s not just traditional “spending”. It’s largely an INVESTMENT in our future. It’s also symbolic of the U.S.’s relevance in global leadership on climate action. Industry wonks agree that doing nothing right now in 2021 will undoubtedly cost us more in the long term in deferred payments. Making the necessary investments now will assuredly offset future costs of playing catch up. It will also create good-paying jobs, spur innovation, clean our air, and invest clean energy transmitted across a first-rate electric grid.

So let’s hit some high-level details.

Transportation Electrification

Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (29% in 2019) in the United States. The infrastructure plan proposes investing $174B to “win the EV market”. (For anyone paying attention, China is kicking our butt in the EV race.) The plan will incentivize the domestic supply chain for batteries and electric vehicles, install over 500,000 charging stations, electrify 20% of yellow school buses and the federal fleet (including USPS). That’s right, electric mail delivery trucks!

Speaking of electric vehicles, even without a climate crisis, EVs will soon dominate the passenger transport market. Why, you ask? Read my blog post about EVs to find out.

The plan also has $85B for public transit and $80B for rail to reduce our dangerous reliance on single-passenger commuting. Shoutout to buses and trains!

Buildings and Distributed Energy

Buildings are responsible for a combined total of 40% of greenhouse gases in the U.S. through 1) onsite combustion of natural gas and 2) emissions from attributable electric generation. The plan proposes $213B to make U.S. buildings more energy-efficient, targeting homeowners and federal buildings. As taxpayers, we foot the energy bills at federal facilities. If you’re like me, then you’d also prefer to minimize federal utility bills as much as possible.

Doing so requires an investment in energy efficiency upgrades for aging buildings while spurring high-skill jobs that we can’t outsource. The plan also calls for incentivizing private investment for renewable energy and distributed energy resources (energy generation that doesn’t come from a centralized power plant).

As a policy, it’s always best to put solar panels on rooftops and over parking lots before disturbing virgin lands with clean energy projects. But to power all of our buildings with low-carbon energy, we need both. This requires bolstering our transmission network to share that sweet, sweet American-made clean electricity with regions that need it.

Transmission Ignition

Electricity generation is the U.S.’s second-largest source of GHGs (25%, 2019). Americans need clean energy sources to meet our national climate commitments. But it’s not enough to simply produce it. Just like Mom used to say, “we need to share”. To reach ambitious GHG reduction targets, we must invest in transmission lines to transport clean, American-made electricity to load centers (people) and across regions for grid balancing.

The plan proposes a 30% tax break to spur the buildout of 20,000 MW of high-voltage power lines. For good measure, 20,000 MW is enough to power about 20 million microwaves. Yes, that’s a lot of frozen dinners. But more importantly, it would mean means jobs, clean infrastructure, and energy resiliency, folks!

The plan contains many more facets than those discussed here. I encourage you to read the fact sheet straight from the source.

Is It Enough?

Short answer: Heck no. But it’s a start. If the price tag gives you sticker shock, I (and the scientific community) would posit doing nothing will cost multiples. We can’t afford to wait until all Americans are on board to move forward on climate action. This moment requires U.S. leadership to take deliberate action to mitigate the risk of a 10°F rise in global temperature. Yes, this plan requires a lot of dollars but it also makes a lot of sense.

Let’s get to work.

About the Author

Alex Kaufman is a science communicator, clean energy specialist, sustainability nerd, professional engineer, travel enthusiast, and resident of San Diego, California. When not helping clients, you can usually find him cycling, hiking, reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning the next big adventure. He is open to speaking engagements. Contact him at alex@alexkaufmanpe.com.

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