The wind and solar industries have managed to grow despite a less-than-supportive Trump administration, which favored fossil fuels such as coal. They have a new ally in the White House in Biden, who has set a goal of 100% renewable energy in the power sector by 2035. Now comes the hard part — making it happen.
Disruption from the pandemic has cost the renewable energy industry, which relies heavily on labor, about 450,000 jobs. The pandemic has also made it more difficult to build wind and solar infrastructure and has redirected federal resources away from the energy sector. There’s the additional challenge of getting pro-environment legislation through a deeply divided U.S. Senate where Democrats hold the narrowest margin possible and have some key members in fossil fuel states.
To reach Biden’s 100% renewable energy goal will require a massive buildout of grid infrastructure to get energy from the windy plains or offshore wind farms over long distances to cities where electricity is needed. About a sixth of today’s U.S. electricity generation is from renewable sources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has said.
Michael Mann, an American climatologist and geophysicist who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said Biden “campaigned on and has a mandate to act on climate,” and that boosts his prospects of getting tough changes through. However, he said, it’s going to be a fight, and compromises will need to be made.
“We must recognize that Green New Deal-like legislation probably cannot pass in a divided Congress and climate advocates may need to make some concessions if we are to see climate legislation in the U.S. over the next couple years,” Mann said.
Still, the industry is optimistic Biden’s ambitious goal can be reached.
“It’s doable, but it won’t be easy,” said Larry Gasteiger, executive director of WIRES, the transmission industry trade group.
It takes about a decade to get transmission lines planned, sited and built, he said, so 2035 “may sound like it’s a ways off, but it’s really not when you think about all of the infrastructure that’s going to need to be built.”
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