Capitol Report: Biden pledges to buy 24/7 carbon-free electricity pushed by Clean Air Task Force, Google and others


Google, Adobe and Hewlett Packard joined environmental groups including the Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Defense Fund to urge the Biden administration to use its role to force the federal government — the world’s largest electricity customer — to buy 100% clean electricity, available 24/7 and locally sourced.

The president included the pledge in Wednesday’s infrastructure announcement.

Read: Biden rolls out $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan: ‘It’s bold, yes, and we can get it done’

The approach, which officials at the groups say plays off of President Biden’s use of executive powers on climate change early in his administration, promotes decarbonizing electricity consumption in each hour on each regional grid, and securing a 24/7 clean energy supply. Read the letter to the White House.

The size of the federal government will then promote cleaner power throughout the private sector, the proponents argue. The federal government consumed 53 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2019 but only about 8% to 9% was counted as renewable sources, the Clean Air Task Force says. Overall, the U.S. federal government spends $500 billion on electricity procurement every year, for its Defense department and other uses. 

The Biden administration has set a goal of creating a 100% clean electricity grid by 2035 but details of that plan are still evolving. He has returned the U.S. to the voluntary Paris Climate pact, which aims to cut fossil fuel-linked global greenhouse gas emissions and limit the global temperature increase in this century to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

The proposal by the Clean Air Task Force and co-writers focuses on how much power is actually being used in real time, an approach that differs from the traditional clean energy procurement approach in place. The current system relies on purchasing electricity from renewables or renewable energy credits from faraway solar and wind projects and still leans heavily on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, when solar and wind are compromised.

The existing model doesn’t provide the right incentives for investment in advanced storage or in carbon-free technologies, as it allows demand to be satisfied by distant energy projects regardless of the time of generation and consumption, the proposal’s architects say.

A broad-based portfolio of energy sources and emissions reducers is considered part of the mix promoted with this plan, including green hydrogen and nuclear energy, as well as carbon capture and advancements in battery storage, which are options often included in bipartisan proposals for updating the power grid, said Lindsey Baxter Griffith, federal policy director with the Clean Air Task Force.

“We believe the U.S. government, the largest electricity buyer in the world, has power to move markets,” said Baxter Griffith.

Market-based solutions to curbing climate change, including those that lean on technological innovation, remain a key theme of most Republican-led legislative proposals.

Alphabet’s Google

and Hewlett Packard Enterprise

stand to benefit as they too have pledged to maintain carbon-neutral data centers and other energy-use reductions at their giant operations.

Google, which since 2017 has been able to match 100% of its global, annual electricity consumption with renewable energy, is also now working to decarbonize its electricity supply entirely and operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy throughout its operations by 2030.

Michael Terrell, director of energy with Google, told MarketWatch that achieving 24/7 carbon-free electricity didn’t seem realistic when charting out the future of energy as recently as 10 years ago. But now hitting that goal by the 2030s, and achieving measurable progress along the way, is reachable. “We can see the end zone,” he said, helped in part by more competitive pricing for wind and solar relative to cheaper natural gas.

The strength of a shared goal between the public and private sectors can’t be underestimated and is more likely to achieve bipartisan buy-in, the proponents of the plan say.

“If we move collectively as electricity buyers, the market will respond,” said Terrell. “And in many ways, the market is already there. There’s not a utility in the country that doesn’t have a version of a clean energy offering or ‘green’ tariffs or programs to ‘green’ their truck fleets.”

The proposal by the group, which also includes the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Nature Conservancy, also argued that the regional approach will promote job creation, especially in areas that may need to replace traditional-energy jobs and will allow a more nimble environmental response to historically underserved areas, part of the “environmental justice” argument that has gained increasing traction.

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