Congress’ spending bill includes strongest clean energy investment in years

On Dec. 21, 2020, Congress passed a $900 billion spending bill with billions allocated for clean energy investments. The bill includes provisions from 36 Democratic and 33 Republican senators, making it clear that legislators on both sides of the aisle are ready to take bolder action for clean energy.

Clean energy

Clean energy in the U.S. has boomed in the last decade, but now with increased investment, we can go even further. Credit: Kenueone via Pixabay
Mary Katherine Moore

On Dec. 21, 2020, Congress passed a $900 billion spending bill with billions allocated for clean energy investments. The bill includes provisions from 36 Democratic and 33 Republican senators, making it clear that legislators on both sides of the aisle are ready to take bolder action for clean energy. It’s a big step toward powering America’s energy future with clean, renewable sources — and Environment America looks forward to building on its progress.

What clean energy investments are included in the bill?

Congress appropriated billions to aid our nation’s transition to clean, renewable energy — setting aside $35 billion for clean energy research and development as well as the extension of critical clean energy tax credits, which help put solar panels and other clean energy technology within reach of millions of Americans. The bill also reserves $2.6 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy’s sustainable transportation program and $1.7 billion to help low-income families install renewable energy sources in their homes. Last but definitely not least, the bill will also phase out 85 percent of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — “super greenhouse gases” that speed up global warming — by 2035. 

The bill builds on a decade of clean energy growth. Since 2010, the United States has seen a 30-fold growth in solar generation — and we largely have tax credits to thank. In fact, each year since the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) was enacted in 2006, our nation’s solar industry has grown by more than 10,000 percent, with a 52 percent average annual growth rate. The new spending bill provides a two-year solar ITC extension, a one-year wind Production Tax Credit extension, and a five-year extension for offshore wind tax credits. While we will continue to advocate for longer extensions, experts have deemed the current extensions essential in our transition to a future in which we efficiently harness solar energy to power our lives. 

The solar ITC plays a huge role in ensuring that developers incorporate solar into construction projects of all sizes — and when it comes to wind energy ITCs, the new bill proved just as vital. While our current wind ITCs were set to expire, the new bill extends them, ensuring that our nation’s wind energy projects won’t lose funding in the near future. Since experts estimate that developing just 4 percent of our country’s offshore wind capacity could power 25 million homes, the bill will move us closer to a clean energy future.

Beyond solar and wind, the bill also includes energy efficiency provisions that will lead to Americans driving more efficient cars while we live, work and learn in more efficient homes and buildings. 

And when it comes to HFCs, we’re glad to see them go. The pollutant, which is commonly expelled by refrigerators and air conditioners, is extraordinarily potent — with hundreds to thousands of times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. By joining the ranks of more than 170 other countries that have already pledged to cut HFCs, experts estimate that we can avoid a 0.5 degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century — vital to avoiding the worst effects of climate change. 

Environment America’s bold vision for a renewable future

When it comes to harnessing the sun and wind to power our lives, Environment America’s campaigns have played an important role in helping our nation get more than 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources — a stark increase from 2001, when America only got one half of 1 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. 

Across the country, our 100% Renewable Energy campaign has helped win statewide 100 percent commitments from eight states. Locally, our Cities Go Solar campaign has helped secure commitments to a future powered by 100 percent renewable energy from more than 165 American communities. Our offshore wind campaign helped bring wind farms to the Atlantic coast. And on the West Coast, our partner group Environment California’s successful Million Solar Roofs campaign has helped put solar panels on the roofs of more than a million homes in California. 

In 2019, Environment California Senior Advisor Dan Jacobson stood with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in support of California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative. Credit: Tomas Ovalle

For years, we’ve called on campuses, cities, states and Congress to support 100 percent renewable legislation. So when we got wind that Congress’ spending bill could include sweeping clean energy investments, we knew we could make a difference.

In the months leading up to the bill’s passage, our advocates gathered a bipartisan coalition of 64 mayors, representing cities in 25 states across the country, to call on Congress to take action on clean energy. Reaching out to their legislators in Washington, D.C., the mayors sent a letter urging lawmakers to extend solar and wind energy tax credits; expand incentives for electric vehicles and energy efficiency; and create new tax credits for energy storage projects.

Then, in the weeks prior to the bill’s passage, our federal lobbying team met with key members of Congress to make the case for prioritizing clean energy. We also raised our supporters’ voices directly to our decision-makers, gathering more than 10,000 public comments from Americans who urged their representatives to include the same tax credits, incentives and efficiency standards in the final spending package. 

After rallying thousands of supporters, our work paid off: Congress’ spending bill included substantive clean energy credits, investments and resources that will keep our country on track to power our lives with the abundant clean, renewable energy all around us.  

Next steps on our path to 100 percent 

Back in 2009, Congress passed a bill with then-bold clean energy investments. Since then, the U.S. has seen an 80-fold increase in solar power capacity while tripling our wind power capacity.  

With this new bill, we’re not just on track to avoid a .5 degree Celsius of warming by 2100. We’re going to see the expansion of solar and wind projects that could change the way we power our lives. 

Still, Environment America won’t stop there — because if we want to hit our goal of powering our lives with 100 percent clean, renewable energy, then me must work to extend measures like the tax credits and expand clean energy projects across the nation. 

“This energy bill marks an American inflection point between our dirty energy past and our clean energy future,” said Johanna Neumann, senior director of Environment America’s Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy. “With the potential to do even more, we look forward to working with Congress in the new year to continue the drive toward a nation powered by clean renewable energy.” 

Three states — Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia — have joined in an offshore wind coalition in an effort to harness the tremendous power of wind along the Atlantic. Credit: Ben Paulos via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0


Mary Katherine Moore

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