Earlier today, in an action that defied the expectations of many, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill following the passage yesterday of a $622 billion tax bill. Both pieces of legislation included major provisions supporting the development of energy technology, both renewable and traditional. After of years watching the U.S. Congress wallow in dysfunction, today’s action, however much one might quibble with the details, comes as extraordinarily good news. The long, cold Washington winter has ended. And maybe, just maybe, the United States is getting its mojo back.
What is noteworthy about Congress’ action today is the centrality of energy and energy technology issues to the compromise that was reached. Tax credits that support solar and wind energy have not only been renewed but extended for a longer period than ever before (five years). The Department of Energy (DOE) has estimated that an extension of those credits for only four years would lead to more than 90 gigawatts of additional wind and solar, generating 320 additional terawatt hours per year. That is enough to power the equivalent of 29 million homes. DOE estimates that, cumulatively, its scenario will avoid more than 1000 million metric tonnes of global-warming pollution through 2022 and 250 million metric tonnes in that year alone. That is more than 10 percent of the power sector’s 2005 emissions.
On the traditional energy side, Congress voted to repeal the 40-year-old ban on exporting U.S. crude oil. Although opposed by many environmentalists, lifting the ban may raise the price of oil in the United States and create more opportunities for American workers and technology developers. This is hardly bad news for electric vehicles and the electrochemical energy storage industry.
But the greatest effect of Congress’ action may simply be the creation of a sense of energy optimism. The energy challenges faced by the United States and by the world are real and complicated. But they are also largely solvable. Over the past several years, America has been its own worst enemy in seeking out those solutions. But today, perhaps, things are changing.
Winston Churchill once famously observed that Americans will always do the right thing, only after they have tried everything else. I am not sure what he would say about an American Congress that has for the last several years been unable to try anything at all. But I suspect he would agree that today Congress has finally done the right thing.