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JP Morgan Endorses Brookings Plan To Boost Renewable Energy Installations

Two statements from the Brookings Institute and JP Morgan Chase make the case for more renewable energy sooner.

Building renewable energy resources is not a problem. Getting permission to build renewable energy resources is, however. The Brookings Institute was founded in 1916 as the Institute for Government Research (IGR), with the mission of becoming “the first private organization devoted to analyzing public policy issues at the national level.” Its stated mission is to “provide innovative and practical recommendations that advance three broad goals: strengthen American democracy; foster the economic and social welfare, security, and opportunity of all Americans; and secure a more open, safe, prosperous, and cooperative international system.”

Six Steps To Renewable Energy

In February, it published a position paper that proposes ways to speed America’s transformation to a zero emissions economy, saying “the permitting of renewable energy generation and electric transmission projects in the United States is multi-layered and often extremely long. If the U.S. is to achieve its climate ambitions and fully implement transformative legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, Congress will also have to enable a massively accelerated build-out of clean energy infrastructure.”

The think tank proposed six policy initiatives it believes would significantly lower the barriers to more renewable energy being added to the nation’s electrical grid.

  1. A significant expansion of federal planning, general permitting, and programmatic review would accelerate the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure in the long term.
  2. Siting authority for all interstate transmission lines could be federalized with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  3. The Biden administration could conduct a staff capacity, funding, and technology needs assessment across agencies involved with critical permitting for clean energy.
  4. Congress could transfer initial authority for Clean Air Act permitting for offshore wind from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
  5. Congress could support multi-agency coordination by allocating additional funding to the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council and by expanding its scope to cover mid-sized as well as large clean energy projects.
  6. Congress could proceed with narrow reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act.

Sharp-eyed readers will immediately spot the fatal flaw in those proposals. Almost all of them rely on Congress doing its job. We can pretty much forget about that, can’t we? The Brookings Institute, being a creature of the cloistered world of Washington, DC politics, is not unmindful of the challenges its proposals face.

“Permitting reforms will also need to be able to attract bipartisan support to pass through Congress,” it says. “The most recent high-profile attempt at permitting reform by Senator Joe Manchin was not palatable to both progressive Democrats, who argued it would eliminate environmental protections, and to Republicans, who, among other concerns, argued that it was a federal power grab and that it did not go far enough in reducing regulatory red tape.”

Jamie Dimon Speaks About Renewable Energy

Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, shared the company’s 2022 annual report with investors recently. It is long, detailed, and filled with lots of lovely charts, but in one part he pretty much supports what the Brookings Institute said. Here’s the relevant section.

Climate Complexity And Planning

“The window for action to avert the costliest impacts of global climate change is closing. At the same time, the ongoing war in Ukraine is roiling trade relations across Europe and Asia and redefining the way countries and companies plan for energy security. The need to provide energy affordably and reliably for today, as well as make the necessary investments to decarbonize for tomorrow, underscores the inextricable links between economic growth, energy security, and climate change. We need to do more, and we need to do so immediately.

“To expedite progress, governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations need to align across a series of practical policy changes that comprehensively address fundamental issues that are holding us back. Massive global investment in clean energy technologies must be done and must continue to grow year-over-year.

“At the same time, permitting reforms are desperately needed to allow investment to be done in any kind of timely way. We may even need to evoke eminent domain [emphasis added] — we simply are not getting the adequate investments fast enough for grid, solar, wind and pipeline initiatives.

“Policies like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — that hold the potential to unlock over $1 trillion in clean technology development — need to be implemented effectively.

“The upside is undeniable: Widespread investing across the private sector will aid domestic manufacturing, invigorate research and development in green innovation, help create resilient supply chains, lift up local economies and build the U.S. clean energy workforce by up to 9 million jobs over the next decade.

“While major advances have been made in the last few years on technology to help this cause, we are hopeful that the great American innovation machine (most advancements will ultimately come from the huge capabilities and capital of America’s largest companies) will find the additional technologies that are desperately needed. There is a downside — massive, inefficient and mal-investment of capital. I talk more about this in the last section on public policy.

“Polarization, paralysis and basic lack of analysis cannot keep us from addressing one of the most complex challenges of our time. Diverse stakeholders need to come together, seeking the best answers through engagement around our common interest. Bolstering growth must go hand in hand with both securing an energy future and meeting science-based climate targets for future generations.”

The Takeaway

Shorn of their high minded ideals and flowery language, both the Brookings Institute and Jamie Dimon are saying much the same thing. To hell with NIMBY-ism and petty local politics. The work that needs doing is so urgent and the benefits to the country so great that the immense power of the federal government must be brought to bear to make the switch to renewable energy happen faster and in more places all at once.

Conceptually, both are correct. But politically? Few people realize how the “waters of the United States” policy promulgated during the second Obama administration became one of the determining factors in the 2016 presidential election. The WOTUS policy was perceived by many, especially in farming communities, as a detestable example of government overreach.

Intellectually, the rule was entirely correct. The runoff from farms, often laden with pesticides and fertilizers, leaches into the groundwater and finds its way eventually to America’s rivers and lakes. The health of tens of millions of Americans is affected, but the agriculture community reacted with scorn. A lot of people agreed with the farmers. Today when we hear the phrase “government overreach,” we are hearing an echo of the WOTUS rule.

Can you imagine the reaction if private property is taken by eminent domain so solar panels or wind turbines can be installed on what was once private property? Can you say “Ruby Ridge,” boys and girls?

Most CleanTechnica readers are probably in favor of speeding up the renewable energy transition as much as possible. We understand that tipping points in the Earth’s climate have already occurred and more are close to be realized as well. But are we comfortable with the notion that the government should be able to force renewables down people’s throats?

One way to frame this argument is to posit what might happen if the government sought to acquire Jamie Dimon’s mansion in The Hamptons on Long Island via eminent domain in order to connect a high voltage transmission cable from an offshore wind farm to the grid. Would the famed leader of the banking community acquiesce or run as fast as he could to federal court to stop the process?

If there is a solution to this dilemma, it will involve educating people to the urgency of the renewable energy transition and making sure that those affected directly by it are treated equitably and not sacrificed on the altar of necessity. That is especially important for communities that have historically borne the burden of living next door to fossil fuel operations. Such communities traditionally are among those who suffer most because their interests have the least influence on the political process.

There are no easy answers. We must act quickly and decisively but without running roughshod over the rights of individuals. Doing so will be the true test of how true America can remain to its founding principles, especially that part about “justice for all.”

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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