Congress’ new year’s resolution for clean energy

What policies the new Congress can pass right away to support a clean energy future

It’s 2021, and new year’s resolutions are being put to the test. For many people that means hitting the gym or cleaning up their diet. But as a clean energy advocate, I’ve spent my time focused on what a new year’s resolution for clean energy could be for Congress. In addition, the incoming administration has promised to make clean energy a priority, but what might that look like? 

Tackling climate change and transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy requires work but it’s doable. Think of it as something similar to not only losing 50 pounds and keeping it off, but also resolving to eat healthier or walk 30 minutes every day. One element that should be at the center of a legislative clean energy agenda is extending tax credits we already have in place. It’s like walking every day.  Then,  ending government subsidies for dirty fossil fuels is like committing to stop drinking soda. Finally, Congress must improve and expand our clean energy tax credit system. Consider that like joining a local farm share and committing to regularly preparing healthy meals at home.

Tax credits for such technologies as solar and wind power have been our most successful government program when it comes to driving the clean energy revolution. Clean energy tax credits allow anyone who installs a wind turbine or solar panels to write off a portion of that investment on their taxes that year. By reducing the costs, it makes clean energy more available for a wider swath of people through a reasonable incentive. Congress just passed short extensions (1 to 2 years) of some of the existing credits for renewables like solar and wind. Now, with a new administration incoming and potentially massive investments being put to a vote, it’s time to think bigger. 

Here’s a worthy resolution menu:

Stick with what works

For more than a decade, these credits have helped us get more solar on rooftops and more power from the wind that blows across the American Great Plains. That said,we still get nearly 90 percent of our energy from dirty sources. Extending clean energy tax credits through 2030 would be a time-tested and impactful resolution to start the new year off right. 

 

Wind energy blowing in the midwest

Ditch what doesn’t

Burning fossil fuels is indisputably bad for our air, water, land and public health. Congress can make the difference for a healthier future by not only renewing existing clean energy credits, but also by resolving to stop putting new taxpayer money into fossil fuels. 

Unfortunately, we’re still spending billions of dollars on federal incentives for things like fossil fuel exploration and deployment. The process is dirty, costly, and is value that is better added to the pursuit of a cleaner, healthier future. That type of disconnect needs to -- and likely will - change in the near future, according to University of Michigan Professor Barry Rabe, who is a federal energy expert. “I just do not hear the word ‘coal’ as part of the American or global energy future very widely anymore,” Rabe said. Nevertheless, we need Congress to actualize our vision through policy, and soon. 

Planning for the future

Along with cutting dirty energy tax credits,  Congress must also go beyond just renewing clean energy incentives. It must not only create new credits for things like battery storage, but also update and modernize incentives for energy efficiency and electric vehicles. Such emerging technologies as battery storage are taking hold in larger markets, and federal tax credits will help allow those technologies to be embraced more broadly and more quickly. We have the technology available to put solar on every rooftop and then pair those panels with battery storage in a weatherized, energy efficient garage. But making that happen on the timescale science says is necessary to get off dirty energy will require an investment from Congress.

Tesla electric vehicle charging station at work

So Congress, this New Year, I challenge you to make a resolution to go big and invest in a cleaner, healthier, more efficient future for America. With the short-term extension of tax credits in December you’ve made a great start. Now let’s keep the momentum going and update, extend, modernize, and invest in the right tax credits for clean energy now.