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Top Priority Policy Planks for a Green New Deal

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is a non-profit organization located in Washington DC whose mission is “to accelerate the transition to a new, low-emissions economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy.” The organization works towards these goals through their briefings on Capitol Hill (as well as webcasts, papers, and more) to educate policymakers and other stakeholders on important energy and environment issues, coalition-building among diverse stakeholders, direct policy development assistance, and technical assistance.

Solar Tribune approached EESI to ask us what the most important and critical policy planks for the Green New Deal– or any other comprehensive climate change and clean energy legislative package– would be. Here is our response to that prompt:

Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency is a central tool for decarbonizing the economy and the cheapest, fastest, and simplest way to address our energy and environmental goals. When something is energy efficient– whether it is a light bulb or a building– it is able to perform the same function with less energy. For example, a light-emitting diode (LED) light bulb requires less energy (fewer watts) than an incandescent light bulb to produce the same amount of light.

Increases in energy efficiency can significantly reduce the amount of energy necessary for transportation and to heat and cool homes and commercial buildings. This decrease in demand makes it easier to meet energy needs with renewable energy sources. Energy efficiency has significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector and has the potential to transform other sectors as well, including buildings, manufacturing, and transportation.

The building sector alone represents a huge opportunity for energy savings. Residential and commercial buildings account for about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and currently 75 percent of this energy is from fossil fuel sources. Proven strategies, materials, and technologies are available to significantly improve building energy efficiency, which in turn reduces operational costs, makes housing more affordable, reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and creates jobs.

Photo Source: Wikimedia

Programs such as the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), a funding opportunity through the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Rural Utility Service, provides zero-interest loans for rural electric co-ops and other rural utilities. Utilities can re-loan the funds to members to upgrade their homes and businesses with energy efficiency and renewable energy. Initially authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill (and reauthorized in 2018 through 2022), RESP leverages USDA funds through a credit subsidy, which must be appropriated by Congress annually. Eligible RESP measures include: on- and off-grid renewable energy systems, energy efficiency retrofits, permanently-installed battery storage devices, electric vehicle charging stations, and replacement of inefficient manufactured homes. This program is particularly critical for low-income households, who spend a higher than average proportion of their income on utility bills. Appropriating additional funds to these programs would provide broader access for energy efficiency and clean energy projects across the country. EESI’s recent briefing on RESP and rural electric cooperatives provides more information about this program.

The urgent need for new and modernized infrastructure, including energy and water systems, public buildings, and transportation projects that receive federal funding, is an opportunity to ensure sustainability and climate resilience from the beginning. Each stage in the process– from planning and siting, to design, materials selection, construction, and operation– is an opportunity to maximize energy efficiency. Efficiency as well as low-carbon fuels may also reduce the long-term burden on infrastructure utility expenses. Indeed, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has included a Climate Title in its new transportation bill for the first time.

Renewable Energy Parity: To transition the United States to renewable energy, wind and solar will need to be complemented by geothermal energy, hydropower, and biomass energy. This can be incentivized by modifying the current tax credit structure that currently favors solar (Business Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC)) and wind power (Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit). Despite unequal access to tax incentives, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass are valuable energy sources because they provide baseload power and are located in geographically diverse areas, allowing a greater number of communities to take advantage of their natural assets. Ensuring tax parity for these energy sources would increase private investment to develop and deploy these technologies, providing more renewable options to meet the country’s overall energy demand. Fossil fuel subsidies should also be eliminated to make renewable energy technologies more competitive and the remove perverse incentives.

The EPA has untapped avenues to support the development of commercial biogas through the Renewable Fuels Standard. Biogas technology converts organic wastes (i.e., agricultural residues, manure, food wastes, and sewage) into energy through a process of anaerobic digestion. According to the American Biogas Council, there are currently about 2,200 operational biogas systems in the United States, with a potential for more than 14,000.

Photo Source: Pixabay

There is also significant potential to develop offshore wind energy, which is abundant and provides a higher capacity factor than terrestrial wind. However, additional policies are necessary to support growth in this industry. In particular, more work is necessary to build transmission from the turbines to end users.

When crafting policy on energy efficiency and renewable energy parity, equity, inclusion, and stakeholder centered processes should be paramount in keeping with the promises of the Green New Deal.


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