New clean energy lobbyists line up sway Biden administration

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, January 6, 2021

At least two energy trade organizations — one focused on the power sector, the other on automobiles — have launched in recent weeks to make sure their members benefit from the federal government’s amped-up effort to combat global warming under President-elect Joe Biden.

After Biden takes office in just two weeks, dozens of executive-branch agencies will get to work on a slew of new regulations and other programs over the next four years aimed by reducing emissions.

And Congress will debate spending billions more dollars on clean energy made all the more possible with President Trump out of the White House.

That is especially true if Democrats eke out a pair victories in the Georgia Senate runoff election, which concluded Tuesday night. Democrat Raphael Warnock beat Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, while Democrat Jon Ossoff holds a narrower lead over incumbent Republican David Perdue.

A former Obama White House official is at the helm of a new renewable energy group.

Officially launched on Jan. 1, the American Clean Power Association is set to represent solar and wind companies along with firms building transmission lines and electric storage capacity.

The group had found a leader in Heather Zichal, who knows Biden from her days as an energy and climate adviser for President Barack Obama. She helped oversee the creation of the Clean Power Plan and, more recently, advised the Biden presidential campaign on climate issues.

“This was a bunch of CEOs saying, all right, look, we are now a trillion-dollar industry,” Zichal said. “Right now we’re not speaking with one voice for the clean power sector.”

The new association was born out of an existing group, the nearly half-century-old American Wind Energy Association, which decided before the election to expand its portfolio of companies to better reflect the construction and manufacturing firms involved in renewable energy. An existing solar trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association, is not merging with the new Zichal-led group.

With the cost of wind turbines and solar panels having plummeted, one of the biggest challenges to the industry isn’t so much producing power but getting it to population centers from the sunny and windy spots in the country.

Zichal plans to lobby both Democrats and Republicans for more infrastructure spending on clean energy and to push the Biden administration to ease barriers on the construction of transmissions lines and other projects.

In the coronavirus stimulus package signed into law last month, Congress extended a slew of tax breaks for solar and wind generation — a long-sought goal of the renewables sector. Zichal said Congress should consider making some of those incentives permanent, though she added that her association is still hammering out an official agenda.

“Is there a better, more efficient way to structure the tax code to support more clean energy over time and ensure predictability and certainty?” she said.

ACP’s members include the major electric utilities such NextEra Energy and Duke Energy; the offshore wind developer Ørsted; the wind turbine maker Vestas; the solar and wind developer Apex Clean Energy; and the tech giant Google.

The group declined to disclose its budget for 2021, but a spokesman said it expects it to be “roughly triple the size of any of the existing renewable trade groups over the coming years.”

Another new lobbying group is going to focus on electric vehicles.

Launched late last year, the Zero Emission Transportation Association will lobby Congress to help pay for the construction of new electric car-charging stations and to bolster tax incentives for consumers to buy zero-emissions vehicles.

With the existing tax credit drying up, the issue of new subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles probably will be a hot-button issue in the new Congress. Republicans from the oil-producing states that sell the gasoline for traditional internal-combustion engines have opposed expanding the incentive.

But ZETA Executive Director Joseph Britton said Republicans increasingly acknowledge both the scientific reality of climate change and the business opportunity it represents for U.S. firms.

“If you’re to look back over the last 40 years, we don’t have many products like the electric vehicle,” said Britton, a former chief of staff to Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “America is a quantifiable leader in the development and deployment, in the manufacturing of electric vehicles.”

“And we can either cultivate that and make it an American success story, or we can just turn that into a flash point that we’ve let escape us,” he added.

Members include electric automakers Tesla, Rivian and Lordstown Motors, as well as electric utilities such as Con Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern Co. and the ride-hail company Uber. The group will operate with a $1 million budget this year.