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Goals Without Plans

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Jun 8, 2021 at 3:00 AM
Energy Policy, Climate Change

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Biden Administration has produced a new US INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) after rejoining the Paris Accords. The new INDC roughly doubles the “ambition” of the previous INDC offered by the Obama Administration, calling for a 50% reduction in US CO2 emissions relative to 2005 by 2030 and achievement of net zero emissions by 2050. Even though this new INDC has not satisfied some environmental activist groups, it is still a major expansion of the US commitment. However, the Paris Accords are not a treaty from the US perspective and likely will not be for the foreseeable future, since Senate ratification would be highly unlikely.

The Administration has discussed several areas of focus for its efforts, including eliminating CO2 emissions from the electric sector by 2035, incentivizing installation of 500,000 EV charging stations, converting the US school bus fleet to EVs, weatherizing large numbers of housing units, making rail travel as fast as air travel, and ultimately achieving net zero emissions by 2050 The Administration’s stated intent is to accomplish all of these objectives using equipment produced in the US, largely by union labor.

Shutting down the 70% of US electric generation powered by fossil fuels over a 14-year period while maintaining a reliable electric grid and providing the power required for the production of the necessary wind turbines and solar panels to replace that generation plus the electric storage facilities required to maintain reliable grid function during periods when wind and solar are unavailable will require careful coordination. The plan for this effort has not been made public and its current state of development is unknown. The incentives to be provided are also undefined.

The proposed locations and installation schedule for the EV charging stations are not yet public, nor is the proposed incentive schedule. The future incentives for electric vehicle purchases are also currently undefined. Two states have now elected to halt sale of new fossil fuel vehicles in 2035, which will force the schedule in those states, causing most vehicles to “age out” before 2050. It is unclear whether the Administration will follow this pattern or continue to move the market with incentives, or both.

The approach to converting the US school bus fleet and the schedule are not yet public. The Administration has the option of requiring all new school bus purchases be EVs after some date certain, since all school buses would “age out” before 2050, though the intent might be to accelerate the transition by mandating and incentivizing conversion of existing buses.

The technology for high speed electric rail exists, though only a few localized systems exist in the US and none approach the speed necessary to match point-to-point air flight times. A Japanese manufacturer has demonstrated a prototype magnetic levitation train capable of achieving 374 miles per hour, though the first commercial service is not scheduled until 2027.

Fully upgrading residential dwellings for improved energy efficiency and all electric operation is estimated to cost approximately $50,000 per dwelling unit. There is no definition of the Administration approach to selecting dwellings to be upgraded or the approach to assuring that the upgrades occur and are effective.