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Heather Zichal in March 2012 at the White House, when she advised President Obama on climate and energy. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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 — called the American Clean Power Association — will be at the center of Washington’s biggest debates over the next four 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 said in an interview with Axios this week, her first since taking the new role that starts Monday.

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.

Driving the news: She had been mentioned as a possible candidate in the Biden administration and earlier in her career worked for then-Sen. John Kerry, who is a top climate official in the incoming administration, who praised her as "strategic and smart" in a statement to Axios.

  • “Heather is an extraordinary warrior on climate and she was fighting this fight long before it was cool," Kerry said. "We’re now in the ten years that will define whether we win on climate and I'm not at all surprised she’s doubling down, but I’m certainly glad she is."

Where it stands: The American Clean Power Association, which was announced in September and formally launches Jan. 1, is the result of the 46-year-old American Wind Energy Association broadening its mission to include other renewable energy.

  • The group will have more than 800 member companies, the vast majority of which were members of AWEA.
  • When making its September announcement, AWEA said in a statement (per Greentech Media) that a broader group was warranted to better reflect the array of firms that work 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 nearly 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 decades-old renewable energy groups, including the Solar Energy Industries Association and the National Hydropower Association, are not merging with the group.
  • Zichal said she will seek to collaborate with existing trade groups in this space. But the American Clean Power Association (coined ACP) will have a “larger budget, a bigger footprint and I believe a larger impact,” she mentioned.

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 the new group who requested anonymity to discuss financial details before a formal launch. (For comparison, AWEA's total expenses in 2018 were around $22 million.)

What I’m 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 is not lost on Zichal, who said one of her first phone calls was with the United Steelworkers. A union spokesperson confirmed the meeting to Axios.

Go deeper: Biden’s climate plan tries to bring unions into the clean-energy revolution

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Takeaways from Biden's sweeping order on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's mammoth executive order on climate policy weighs in at over 7,500 words and resists any single narrative, but I've got a few initial takeaways.

Why it matters: The order aims to marshal the entire federal government behind new initiatives, so that means agencies that may not have the muscle memory or expertise of the resource and environmental branches like EPA and DOE.

America rebalances its post-Trump news diet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Nearly halfway through President Biden's first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off of news — and especially politics.

Why it matters: The departure of former President Trump's once-ubiquitous presence in the news cycle has reoriented the country's attention.

2021 sees a record number of bills targeting trans youth

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans in at least 25 states have introduced over 60 bills targeting transgender children — a legislative boom since January that has beaten 2020's total number of anti-trans bills.

Why it matters: LGBTQ advocates say the unprecedented push was catalyzed by backlash to Biden's election and the Supreme Court ruling that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender.