By Irina Slav
The energy transition has been enjoying center stage in the energy news flow for over a year now, and things are showing no signs of changing anytime soon. Yet, the paths to net-zero that are being discussed are multiplying. The idea of taxing carbon emissions in order to motivate the companies that generate them to clean up their act is one dominant path to net zero. Recently, however, another one has emerged, and some believe it is the better way to deal with emissions.
Congress Democrats have so far introduced two bills that focus on what is commonly called a clean electricity standard and which is effectively a system for punishing fossil fuel plant operators and rewarding renewable energy companies. Ultimately, however, both bills are about creating a carbon credit trading system.
“In addition to reducing emissions from the power sector, a clean electric power grid is also essential to unlock opportunities to reduce emissions in other sectors. Electrification of the transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors is a critical pathway for the U.S. to achieve a net zero-emissions future. Together, clean electricity and electrification could cut carbon pollution economy-wide by up to 75%,” wrote more than 75 big U.S. companies in a letter to Congress in July.
The companies, which included heavyweights such as Google, General Motors, Tesla, and Lyft, and which were organized by the Environmental Defense Fund, noted that the power generation sector accounts for a third of the national total in CO2 emissions and for half of all-natural gas use, which, they argued, was unsustainable.
“By acting now to enact a federal clean electricity standard, Congress and the President can spur a robust economic recovery, create millions of good-paying jobs, and build the infrastructure necessary for a strong, more equitable, and more inclusive American economy for the next century,” the signatories also wrote.
Job creation is among the main supporting arguments to the introduction of a clean electricity standard. As such a standard would require a fast expansion of solar and wind capacity, the proponents argue that it would create a lot of jobs, entirely offsetting any jobs lost in the oil and gas industry.
“The actions to achieve net-zero emissions create approximately 500,000 to 1 million new energy jobs across the country in the 2020s alone, with net job increases in nearly every state,” the authors of a study from Princeton wrote last year. “The scenarios that more heavily rely on wind and solar see more energy jobs created. In nearly all states, job losses in extractive fossil industries are more than offset by an increase in construction and manufacturing in the clean energy sector.”
The longevity of such jobs may be doubtful, since once a solar or a wind farm is completed, it requires a lot fewer people to maintain it, but this appears to be beside the point, which is to cut emissions as much as possible and as fast as possible.
One outcome of such a drive, if it is successful, would also be lives saved as a result of lower air pollution. It is an interesting fact that air pollution, which is directly damaging to human health, has given way to carbon emissions and the climate as a top concern in the past few years in the climate discourse. Now, it is being mentioned again, with 9,200 lives expected to be saved by 2030 thanks to a clean electricity standard, rising to 317,500 over the next 30 years.
As for the chances of a clean energy standard actually becoming a law, these appear to be relatively slim at this point in time. As Vox’ Rebecca Leber noted in a recent article on the topic, it won’t be just Republicans opposing such an initiative. Some moderate Democrats might also oppose the initiative as they have with other Biden administration ideas about the energy transition.