Capitol Report: Clean Air Task Force joins Google and others to push Biden to buy 24/7 carbon-free electricity

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Technology companies Google, Adobe and Hewlett Packard joined environmental groups including the Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Defense Fund to urge the Biden administration to use its role to force the federal government, the world’s largest electricity customer, to buy 100% clean electricity, available 24/7 and locally sourced.

The proposed approach, which officials at the groups say plays off of President Biden’s use of executive powers on climate change early in his administration and his appointment of climate-focused leaders throughout the executive branch, promotes decarbonizing electricity consumption in each hour on each regional grid, and securing a 24/7 clean energy supply. Read the letter to the White House.

The size of the federal government will then promote cleaner power throughout the private sector, the proponents argue. The federal government consumed 53 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2019 but only about 8% to 9% was counted as renewable sources, the Clean Air Task Force says. Overall, the U.S. federal government spends $500 billion on electricity procurement every year, for its Defense department and other uses. 

The Biden administration has set a goal of creating a 100% clean electricity grid by 2035 but details of that plan are yet to be clear.

The proposal by the Clean Air Task Force and co-writers focuses on how much power is actually being used in real time, an approach that differs from the traditional clean energy procurement approach in place. The current system relies on purchasing electricity from renewables or renewable energy credits from faraway solar and wind projects and still leans heavily on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, when solar and wind are compromised.

That model doesn’t provide the right incentives for investment in advanced storage or in carbon-free technologies, as it allows demand to be satisfied by distant energy projects regardless of the time of generation and consumption, the proposal’s architects say. Alphabet’s Google
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Adobe
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and Hewlett Packard Enterprise
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stand to benefit if their technologies are used to track usage and build out a renewables-only power grid.

Higher-impact electricity procurement also aims to reduce reliance on fossil-fuel generation that supplies the grid when adequate variable renewable generation is not available and to create demand for energy storage and firm and dispatchable carbon-free resources. The proposed approach emphasizes procuring carbon-free resources from the same region as demand to ensure that local grids progress in decarbonizing.

A broad-based portfolio of energy sources and emissions reducers is considered part of the mix promoted with this plan, including green hydrogen and nuclear energy, as well as carbon capture and advancements in battery storage, which are options often included in bipartisan proposals for updating the power grid, said Lindsey Baxter Griffith, federal policy director with the Clean Air Task Force. Currently, relatively inexpensive natural gas serves as the primary or backup energy source to keep the power grid running, even when wind and solar are used in part.

“We believe the U.S. government, the largest electricity buyer in the world, has power to move markets,” said Baxter Griffith.

Market-based solutions to curbing climate change, including those that lean on technological innovation, remain a key theme of most Republican-led legislative proposals.

The proposal by the group, which also includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy, also argues to the Biden administration that the regional approach will promote job creation, especially in areas that may need to replace traditional-energy jobs and will allow a more nimble environmental response to historically underserved areas, part of the “environmental justice” argument that has gained increasing traction.

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