WASHINGTON (CN) — As floods drown the Midwest and fires scorch the West Coast, renewable energy like solar and wind power will become an essential part of combating climate change. Experts emphasized Thursday that lawmakers must act quickly, but Republicans pushed back and said proposals like the Green New Deal are far too costly.
A hearing in the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis focused on the urgency in shoring up renewable energy sources to bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 and prevent disasters brought on by warming temperatures.
Devastating storms across the Midwest and record-breaking wildfires in California are evidence that policymakers need to act now, said Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and chair of the committee.
“Scientists say we can expect more extreme events. Insurers say plan for greater risk,” Castor warned.
But Republican members of the committee were apprehensive about the cost to their constituents.
Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Ala., said it would cost trillions to transition to a power grid running completely on renewable energy.
“To tell the American public that we are going to have a Green New Deal that puts us at all renewables in the next 10 years, I think, does the American people a great disservice,” Palmer said, referencing House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s clean energy proposal that aims to bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero not by 2050, but by 2030.
Ten years from now, the solar industry aims to provide 20% of the nation’s electricity, up from 2.3% today.
Reaching that goal would not only reduce the cost of installing solar panels on a home or business but would also create 350,000 new jobs and add $345 billion to the U.S. economy, said Abigail Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Making serious inroads in solar will require Congress to extend the tax incentives and reduce regulations on rooftop solar installations, she told lawmakers.
“Just like you get a front door or a window, you should get a solar panel on your roof,” Hooper said.
Modernizing the electric grid across the country is also a top priority.
Tom Kiernan, president of the American Wind Energy Association and a former EPA official, said investing in electric infrastructure will expand transmission capacity along the grid.
“It’s additional transmission that allows you to get clean wind energy and clean solar from where it is generated” to the consumer, Kiernan said, adding that the current power grid has a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Equally important, Hopper said, is rolling back Trump administration tariffs on steel and aluminum so manufacturers and farmers who turn to wind energy don’t have to pay higher prices because developers are shelling out more for imported parts.
But Republicans representing coal mining states said moving too fast toward solar and wind energy would come at the cost of their constituents’ livelihoods.
“Is it realistic that we will keep our homes, businesses, schools powered reliably without coal and natural gas? Absolutely not,” Representative Carol Miller of West Virginia said.
Renewable energy across all 50 states accounted for just 11% of consumption in 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Representative Donald McEachin, D-Va., asked Hopper what Congress can do to ensure that advancements in renewable energy land new opportunities in low income communities and communities of color.
Strategic workforce development by the federal government will be critical, Hopper said, beginning as early as high school where students can be informed on job opportunities in the solar industry ranging from construction to finance.
Representative Kelly Armstrong R-N.D., supported the initiatives set before the committee but voiced concern over the U.S. becoming energy dependent by importing critical minerals necessary to manufacture batteries to store renewable energy.
A Tesla car, Armstrong pointed out, holds seven pounds of lithium in its rechargeable battery.
Also concerning, he said, is that many of the countries the U.S. imports from are committing human rights abuses in mining the rare materials.
Katherine Hamilton co-chairs the World Economic Forum council focused on advancing energy technology and recognized Armstrong’s concern, citing the Congo as a prime example.
She said the U.S. needs to ramp up investment in technology to mine at home and recycle the critical minerals.