Axios' Amy Harder scoops...A new renewable-energy trade group has announced its chief executive as Heather Zichal, a top adviser to former President Barack Obama.
Why it matters: President-elect Joe Biden has promised to drastically increase clean energy, so this group — the American Clean Power Association — will be at the center of Beltway debates in coming years.
What they’re saying: "We’ve gone from a point in time when the voice in Washington for the renewable sector is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must-have as we think about our climate and economic agenda," Zichal told Axios.
Flashback: Since the Obama administration, Zichal has recently worked at The Nature Conservancy and as executive director of another climate-oriented group, the Blue Prosperity Coalition.
- She had been mentioned as a possible candidate for a Biden administration role, and early in her career worked for then-Sen. John Kerry, a top climate official in the incoming administration.
- Kerry told Axios that Zichal "strategic and smart" and that she was fighting climate change "long before it was cool."
Where it stands: The American Clean Power Association, which was announced in September and formally launches Jan. 1, stems from the 46-year-old American Wind Energy Association broadening its mission to include other forms of renewable energy.
- It will have more than 800 member companies, the vast majority of which were members of AWEA.
- When making its September announcement, AWEA said (per Greentech Media) the broader group better reflects the array of firms in the renewable energy space, including manufacturers, construction firms, transmission and storage companies.
The big picture: Renewable electricity, led by hydropower and wind, makes up nearly 18% of U.S. electricity. A decade ago, wind and solar were around 0% (hydropower has remained steady for decades.)
The intrigue: It is a tough task getting a bunch of distinct but similar interests on the same page, as is necessary for trade associations.
- Other longstanding renewables groups, including the Solar Energy Industries Association and the National Hydropower Association, are not merging with the group.
- Zichal plans to work with existing trade groups. But the American Clean Power Association (coined ACP) will have a "larger budget, a bigger footprint and I believe a larger impact," she said.
By the numbers: The goal in the coming years is for ACP’s budget to be roughly triple the size of existing renewable-energy trade groups, said an official involved with ACP who requested anonymity to discuss details before a formal launch. (For comparison, AWEA's total 2018 expenses were around $22 million.)
What we're watching: Biden has repeatedly said he wants to ensure the renewable-energy jobs he helps create are labor-friendly with unions. Renewable energy is historically less unionized than other energy types.
- This tension's not lost on Zichal, who said one of her first calls was with the United Steelworkers. A union spokesperson confirmed the meeting to Axios.