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Electrolyte tanks of a redox flow battery, which can store electricty generated by renewables. Photo: Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty Images

From December 2019 into the next several years, a slate of federal tax credits for solar and wind power are set to expire, allowing Congress a chance to revisit this valuable plank of clean energy policy.

The big picture: Under current incentives, wind and solar power have come to produce over 8% of U.S. electricity, up from less than 1% a decade agoBut the credits have ballooned in cost — from under $1 billion in 2008 to $5.5 billion in 2018 — while doing little to promote other new energy technologies that will play a vital role in decarbonizing the economy.

Context: Clean energy tax credits are one of the rare policy tools that have a meaningful climate impact and also enjoy broad support.

  • Congress has passed them with bipartisan majorities several times, and recent proposals for new incentives have come from Democrats and Republicans alike.

What’s needed: Cost-effective decarbonization requires bringing new technologies to commercial scale. Three principles could help maximize the benefits of a new generation of tax credits:

  1. Tailor incentives to the most critical applications, such as long-duration storage for renewable energy, rather than to specific technologies. That approach would prepare the U.S. electricity system for deeper decarbonization without locking in payments for underperforming technologies.
  2. Coordinate government support for research, development and demonstration (RD&D) to ensure that novel clean energy technologies — such as advanced nuclear reactors and carbon capture and storage — are ready for commercial scale-up with the help of tax credits.
  3. Ramp down support for new technologies as they're adopted in the marketplace, to avoid spikes in incentive costs that don't deliver commensurate returns. If laid out clearly ahead of time, these phase-out conditions could avoid chilling the climate for private investment.

The bottom line: Tax incentives are just one element of a comprehensive climate plan, which could extend to increased RD&D funding and a price on carbonBut they are a bipartisan policy tool well positioned to scale up new technology options and squeeze emissions out of the electricity system, which accounts for more than a quarter of U.S. emissions.

Go deeper: Read more analysis from the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy.

Varun Sivaram is CTO of ReNew Power and an adjunct senior research scholar and fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy (CGEP). Noah Kaufman is a research scholar and directs the Carbon Tax Research Initiative at CGEP.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House voted Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

House passes annual defense bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House voted to pass the annual defense bill 363-70 on Tuesday night, authorizing nearly $770 billion in funding for defenses and national security programs.

Why it matters: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) still has to clear the Senate, but the House passage greatly increases the chances that the must-pass defense bill will move through both chambers of Congress before the end of the year.

Women politicians are under siege

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Kevin Dietsch, Stefani Reynolds, and Alex Wong/Getty Images

Women in Congress feel besieged and singled-out amid surging threats against lawmakers at all levels, with some frustrated more hasn't been done to halt the trend.

Why it matters: As record numbers of American women are being elected to public office, their growing political power is being met with death and rape threats, sexist and racist abuse and online disinformation. Collectively, it's discouraged women from running for office.