During the second and last Presidential Debate, President-Elect Joe Biden said if elected he would transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels. He pledged on the first day of his administration he “would sign a series of Executive Orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and will put us on the right track on climate change.”
By the time you read this article, we will know at least the initial steps of what President Biden will truly do about climate change, fossil fuels and the U.S. economy.
He promises to invest $1.7 trillion over ten years to build a more resilient, sustainable economy that will put the U.S. on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050. He promises his plan will build modern, sustainable infrastructure now and deliver an equitable clean energy future.
President Biden promises to create millions of good jobs that will: re-configure public infrastructure, re-position the automobile industry to win the 21st century with American technology, achieve a pollution-free power sector by 2035, make dramatic investments in energy efficiency buildings, pursue a historic investment in clean energy innovation, advance sustainable agriculture and conservation, and secure environmental justice and equitable economic opportunity.
Biden promises the movement from fossil fuels will be the largest job creation and economic opportunity of the 21st century. Jobs will be available in engineering, welding, iron casting, steel fabrication, and many other areas. Investment will be made in battery storage and transmission infrastructure, to address reliability and relieve bottlenecks to unlock America’s clean energy potential.
Those goals present a tremendous challenge and, if successful, will truly transform the U.S. economy. I have limited knowledge of many of the initiatives, but I do know a few things about the energy sector.
De-carbonizing the U.S. electric sector by 2035 will be a monumental task and will require much more than the $400 billion allocated to the sector. The industry has invested trillions of dollars in electric infrastructure over the decades to build arguably the most reliable industrial system known to man. To transition to renewable generation resources located in remote areas, move the power to population centers where it is needed, store it until it is needed, and do so safely, affordably, and reliably will be the greatest industrial challenge ever attempted.
President Biden also promises to rally the rest of the world to make changes to meet the threat of climate change. He promises to make commitments beyond those required by the Paris Agreement and will lead an effort to get every country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic targets. He will require the commitments to be transparent and enforceable and will use America’s economic leverage and power of example to keep other countries from cheating.
The promises are obviously political promises. The ability to actually deliver those promises will depend upon the amount of investment available and the ultimate cost of electricity produced from the new electric economy.
However, the Biden Administration feels more empowered than previous administrations to follow this path. It will be interesting to see how much of the plan is actually implemented and how successful it can be.
I am, as usual about promises like these, skeptical. People of all economic standing, color, and political affiliation are accustomed to reliable and affordable electric power. Regression in either measure will not be accepted well by anyone. Without large government subsidies that totally distort the price and disguise who pays for electricity, sustainable renewable electricity with battery storage will not be as affordable or reliable for the public as what we now enjoy — and will not be for the foreseeable future.
Rallying the rest of the world to increase Paris climate goals will be daunting. Only two very small and minor countries are currently compliant with Paris Agreement commitments. China and India will not risk their growing economies to follow President Biden’s path to more expensive energy resources. To the contrary, privately they will likely laugh at our efforts.
I am not sure about many things in life, but I am sure about the reliability and affordability of electricity generated by fossil fuels. It would be smarter to take the investment and use it to learn to live with any repercussions of climate change, assuming there will be any.
The future is always challenging. We will certainly be challenged for the next four years.
I hope you have a good month and a better 2021.