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Jennifer Granholm: 'Send us proposals for the big, bold clean energy projects'

The U.S. Secretary of Energy detailed how businesses, investors and inventors can advance the energy transition.

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

There's never been a better time to work in climate tech, and business leaders need to get moving to push opportunities forward and help the government meet its major climate goals, according to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

"Send us proposals for big, bold, clean energy projects, proposals with maximum potential to create good-paying jobs and deliver environmental justice and make an impact in the fight against climate change," she said in a video streamed Wednesday at the VERGE 22 event in San Jose, California.

The big climate objectives of the administration of President Joe Biden are to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, "make our electricity sector 100 percent clean" five years later and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Granholm said that "the full force of the federal government is going to be squarely behind climate action and clean energy deployment" thanks to a trio of ambitious laws passed over the past 11 months, which she nicknamed the "backbone," the "brain" and the "lungs."

"Because as stunning as these three legislation legislative accomplishments are — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS Act, the Inflation Reduction Act — right now, they're just lines of text," the two-term former governor of Michigan said. "And we need your help to translate those lines of text into transmission lines, into dollars out the door and shovels in the ground."

We have to put millions of Americans to work in good-paying, high-quality jobs that offer a chance to join a union and a pathway to the middle class.

"To the investors, get investing so we can accelerate this transition as quickly as possible. To the innovators: Work with us to drive these next-generation technologies like clean hydrogen and advanced nuclear and geothermal and [carbon capture and storage] and more. And to the policymakers and the civil servants: Help us get the word out that the federal government is handing out money for energy efficiency upgrades. Every one of you has a role to play here. And there is just no time to waste and no limit to the opportunity ahead."

Here's a quick refresher on the three major laws Granholm referenced:

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed Nov. 15

Granholm described this as the "backbone ... an historic investment to build greater resilience into our physical infrastructure, including the power grid, and to lay down new supply chains and to develop and demonstrate next-generation technologies with enormous potential to revitalize economies and create good-paying jobs," she said. "I'm talking clean hydrogen and carbon capture and enhanced geothermal, advanced nuclear, next-generation batteries, utility-scale storage and more."

The $1.2 trillion dollar law earmarks a mix of normal infrastructure funding and $550 billion in new investments. Notable areas include: $55 billion for clean water and lead line fixes; $65 billion to widen broadband Internet access; $110 billion to fix infrastructure including roads and bridges; $39 billion to improve public transit; $42 billion to shore up airports and ports; $66 billion to help passenger rail; $7.5 billion to build EV charging networks nationally; $65 billion to upgrade power grids; $50 billion to address infrastructure climate resilience; and $21 billion to clean up polluted sites including Superfund areas and brownfields.

The CHIPS and Science Act, signed Aug. 12

Granholm characterized this legislation as "the brain, which invests in cutting-edge science and innovation, and it boosts American manufacturing of semiconductors, which is of course a key ingredient in clean energy technologies." CHIPS stands for Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America. It created $52 billion to counter China's dominance in semiconductor production, providing incentives for companies to locate manufacturing in the U.S.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed Aug. 16

Granholm said she considers the law, nicknamed the IRA, to be "the lungs breathing life into the country's clean energy industries by incentivizing businesses to put real skin in the game with American parts and American labor." It offers $369 billion in clean energy and climate-related technologies.

Climate advocates including the Climate Reality Project cheered in the weeks before the IRA's passage, calling it "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" despite its compromises allowing fast approval for oil pipeline projects and oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. The long-term hope of clean energy advocates is that the law will ultimately make it harder for fossil fuel companies to eke out profits.

More on climate investments

"So all told these three pieces, this agenda, is going to marshal roughly half a trillion dollars for clean energy deployment and climate action," Granholm said. "And that doesn't even count the funding that's going to flow in from a private sector that sees real certainty now in these spaces. This agenda makes massive investments in place-based solutions, recognizing that no one community is the same — that all these communities have unique resources and advantages, that they can use them to carve out new opportunities in the clean energy economy."

This agenda is going to marshal roughly half a trillion dollars for clean energy deployment and climate action. And that doesn't even count the funding that's going to flow in from a private sector.

Federal investments in clean energy and climate solutions are bigger than most Americans probably realize. That half a trillion dollars ($500 billion, in case you had to pause) eclipses other major historical U.S. investments in technological goals that initially seemed improbable to many.

For example, some climate action advocates have called for the government to mobilize a Manhattan Project-level investment, which the government spent $1.9 billion on through 1945. That’s roughly $31 billion today. As for a climate "moonshot"? The Apollo program cost $28 billion from 1960 to 1973, about $187 billion in 2022.

To be fair, the Manhattan Project and the moonshot were singularly focused efforts, while transitioning to clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions require a vast array of technologies, tactics and tools reaching across geographies and penetrating many institutional and social layers.

In addition, history is still being written, and these laws are new. The path to their passage was mostly rocky in Congress, to say the least, and there's no shortage of forces that could sabotage the Biden administration's efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Supply chain gaps could stymie the work of the CHIPS Act. The big oil and gas forces dominant in states such as Texas, New Mexico and Pennsylvania could object to the methane reductions urged by the IRA. The results of the 2022 midterm elections will also shape things to come.

In addition, "much of the funding in these [three latest] bills is in the form of either competitive grants or tax incentives for new projects or rebates for consumer purchases," Granholm noted.

That said, the announcements keep rolling out. Granholm in September announced one of the Energy Department’s largest investments: $7 billion to create regional "hydrogen hubs," with concept papers due Nov. 7 and applications due April 7. These initiatives are designed to invest in the American workforce and advance inclusion and accessibility, feeding into the goal of the Justice40 Initiative, which stipulates that 40 percent of clean energy and climate investments flow to "disadvantaged communities" (more on that in a moment).

To the investors, get investing so we can accelerate this transition as quickly as possible.

She also revealed that the Energy Department will invest $4.9 billion toward carbon capture and storage technologies. The department has spent $242 million in 55 R&D projects in this space since Biden’s term began.


"Of course, to make the most of all these opportunities, we have to put millions of Americans to work in good-paying, high-quality jobs that offer a chance to join a union and a pathway to the middle class," Granholm said at VERGE 22. "We need contractors installing heat pumps, we need electricians that are setting up rooftop solar, we need engineers planning new wind farms, we need manufacturing workers on assembly lines and new plants, we need mineworkers and smelters building up our supply chains, we need line workers beefing up the grid and on and on and on."


The government for the first time is poised to measure the human benefits of the new technologies and programs at play, Granholm said. The Biden administration continues to build an Environmental Justice Scorecard, a public website showing how federal agencies are working to deliver benefits to communities while "reducing burdens and harms" to them, while "centering justice in decision making." (Public comments on it closed several weeks ago.)

That's the result of one of the first things Biden signed upon taking office in January 2021; Executive Order 14008: "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad" created the Justice40 Initiative. It also stipulated that the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Management and Budget and the national climate adviser (Ali Zaidi, who just succeeded Gina McCarthy) consult with those communities. 

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