Jan 12, 2022 - Energy & Environment

White House expands clean energy push as legislation stalls

The 100-megawatt MGM Resorts Mega Solar Array

The 100-megawatt MGM Resorts Mega Solar Array is launched on June 28, 2021 in Dry Lake Valley, Nevada. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The White House is rolling out new multi-agency initiatives to speed renewable power and transmission deployment at a time when Democrats' huge clean energy investment plan has stalled out in Congress.

Why it matters: President Biden has set a goal of reaching 100% carbon-free power by 2035 and accelerating job growth in low-carbon energy.

  • The new bipartisan infrastructure law has a suite of major clean energy initiatives, including transmission provisions that support Wednesday's announcements.
  • But the administration's targets — notably cutting economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 — are unlikely absent the stalled, and larger, Build Back Better bill, which has over $500 billion in clean energy and climate measures.

Driving the news: The Interior Department on Wednesday will announce final plans to hold what the administration is calling the largest-ever auction for offshore wind leases off the New York and New Jersey coasts.

  • The sale could ultimately lead to up to 7 gigawatts of offshore wind development, enough to power two million homes, the White House said.
  • The administration has a goal of 30 gigawatts of installed offshore wind capacity by 2030 and already begun approving projects.

Zoom in: Per a White House summary, various other new plans include...

  • A new multi-agency initiative to speed review of clean energy project proposals on public lands. It involves departments of the Interior, Energy, Agriculture and Defense, as well as the EPA.
  • Launch of an Energy Department program called "Building a Better Grid" aimed at financing transmission, and coordinating development among federal, state and local governments — a historically slow and difficult process.
  • A new partnership between the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. It will "collaboratively advance offshore wind energy while protecting biodiversity and promoting cooperative ocean use," the White House said.

The big picture: The administration is seeking to use executive power to juice the ongoing movement of the economy toward cleaner power, industrial and vehicle technologies.

  • Renewable power and electric vehicles are already growing rapidly, but the energy system transformation is nonetheless occurring too slowly to meet White House emissions-cutting targets, which call for a 50% cut by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

By the numbers: U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions — that is, the lion's share — bounced back by an estimated 6.2% last year from the pandemic-fueled decline of 2020, per the Energy Information Administration.

  • The EIA's latest analysis Tuesday projects that energy-related CO2 emissions will rise by another 1.8% this year and 0.5% in 2023.
  • They'll still be below pre-pandemic levels, per EIA. But U.S. emissions are nowhere close a trajectory consistent with White House targets.
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