Nov 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Environmental group pushes new clean-energy tax credit

Illustration of solar panels designed to look like 100 dollar bills

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The National Wildlife Federation is sharing with lawmakers a tax credit proposal to help bring cleaner electricity to parts of the country that are currently powering with coal and natural gas.

Why it matters: With a divided government likely, any climate and energy policy is probably going to come in the form of relatively narrow spending proposals like this.

Driving the news: The proposal would give varying levels of tax credits to utilities depending how high carbon emissions are in the state's electricity, according to Shannon Heyck-Williams, the group's climate and energy policy director. The higher the emissions, the bigger the subsidy offered to generate cleaner electricity.

“We can’t address climate effectively and meet climate goals with large chunks of the country left out of this clean energy boom.”
— Shannon Heyck-Williams, National Wildlife Federation

How it works: States whose electricity grids already have a lot of cleaner electricity, like California and Washington State, would get a 10% tax credit. States with electricity heavily powered by coal and natural gas, such as many in the Midwest, could get up to a 45% tax credit.

  • If a new electricity plant emits less carbon dioxide than an average natural-gas plant, “then it qualifies for the tax credit,” says Heyck-Williams.
  • The proposal is similar to a bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), except with the additional layer that adjusts the tax credit level depending on how high emissions are in a state's electricity mix.

What they’re saying: The proposal could have bipartisan support.

  • Heyck-Williams says her initial conversations with congressional Republican offices have been positive and that conservatives prefer technology-neutral subsidies over tech-specific kinds.
  • Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at the liberal Data for Progress, says he is “particularly interested” in this type of policy given the political limits of a (probable) Republican-controlled Senate.
  • “That’s probably the upper limits of our ambition, which pains me to say,” said NoiseCat, in a nod to his and other progressives’ preferences for more sweeping proposals like the Green New Deal.

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