With Russia’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine, an energy crisis precipitated by the volatility of global fossil fuel markets has once again brought home that our nation’s continued reliance on fossil fuels leaves us vulnerable to unsavory foreign actors and the gyrations of unpredictable global markets. The undeniable reality is that to secure our economy against geopolitical disruptions, we must transition to a clean-energy future.
Wind turbines and solar panels generate power with zero fuel costs – and no foreign dictator can cut off our access to the sun and wind. Renewable power enhances the security, reliability and resilience of the electric grid and has proven more readily resilient in the face of extreme weather conditions than other electricity sources.
The Biden Administration’s top environmental officials have made clear that rising energy prices are the product of fossil fuel dependence. In fact, at the American Council on Renewable Energy’s Policy Forum last month, EPA Administrator Michael Regan argued that more clean energy deployment could have insulated Americans from price volatility, while White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said the crisis is proof that “we cannot increase our dependence on fossil fuels.”
National security experts agree on the importance of accelerating the transition to renewable power. Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks recently said that renewable energy was “not just critical to addressing the threat of climate change, but also to our national security as we work to secure US competitiveness in rapidly shifting global energy markets.” Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus argued that “only by pushing the world economy to renewable sources like wind and solar — which are controlled locally and essentially bulletproof from foreign manipulation — can nations regain their economic sovereignty.” My predecessor as head of the American Council on Renewable Energy, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret), recently wrote that “U.S. leadership for rapid national and global expansion of clean, sustainable renewable energy will increase our energy security, economic security and environmental security.”
Thankfully, market forces are already driving the transformation of our energy systems. Renewable energy is a critical component of the nation’s power mix today, outcompeting fossil sources of electricity in much of the country. With more than $50 billion in U.S. investment last year, renewable energy is also one of the nation’s most important economic drivers.
But to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy economy, we need congressional leadership, a whole-of-government approach, and a level playing field in the tax code. It is no secret that, unlike China and nearly every other developed economy, we have no energy policy in the US that propels the transition to renewable power outside of incentives in the tax code. While fossil fuel tax incentives like resource depletion allowances and special treatment for “intangible drilling” have been on the books for more than a century, incentives for renewable energy have repeatedly expired since their inception in the 1990s, depriving the renewable energy sector of the policy certainty so important for business planning. Today the tax credit for solar power is phasing down, and the credit for new wind energy projects has, once again, expired. Meanwhile, permanent incentives for fossil fuels are still going strong.
Thankfully, the Biden Administration and Congressional leaders are taking steps to finally provide the renewable energy industry with the stable long-term policy support the fossil sector has long enjoyed. In his State of the Union address, President Biden renewed calls for tax incentives to accelerate renewable energy deployment, noting that the administration’s energy proposals would save American families an average of $500 a year. The President has also launched a whole-of-government approach to facilitate the renewable energy transition, including groundbreaking steps like the Department of Defense’s effort to transition to carbon-free electricity sources, and inter-agency partnerships to streamline siting and permitting for renewable development on public lands and offshore. Congressional leaders and the administration have also prioritized critically important efforts to promote domestic manufacturing that strengthens clean energy supply chains and secures access to critical minerals. Just this week, the President’s FY2023 budget proposal included $200 million for a Solar Manufacturing Accelerator, while the Administration is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of critical minerals used in large-capacity batteries to store renewable energy.
And of course, the national security imperative for a rapid transition to homegrown renewable energy includes the dire necessity to protect our climate. A recent IPCC report warned that our climate is changing faster than humanity can adapt, which will cause “dangerous and widespread disruptions” across the planet.
Our adversaries have shown they will not hesitate to weaponize our dependence on fossil fuels. Let’s make sure this is the last time they have that opportunity. Policies that help speed the transition to renewable energy, like the climate provisions in budget reconciliation proposals, are critical to our national security and the effort to address the looming climate threat. It’s time to deliver the renewable energy future that American businesses and consumers are calling for and scientists say we desperately need.
Gregory Wetstone is the President and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), a national nonprofit organization that unites finance, policy and technology to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy economy. For twenty years, ACORE has been the focal point for collaborative advocacy across the renewable energy sector, supported by members spanning renewable energy technologies and constituencies, including developers, manufacturers, top financial institutions, major corporate renewable energy buyers, grid technology providers, utilities, professional service firms, academic institutions and allied nonprofit groups.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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