If you happen to peruse Joe Biden’s campaign website, you will find a laundry list of “Biden Plans” for everything from ending racism to reintroducing the failed Cash for Clunkers program for electric vehicles. Among these patently ridiculous proposals sits a seemingly innocuous promise to “establish a technology-neutral Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard (EECES) for utilities and grid operators.” But behind its sweet sounding title, creating a national EECES could prove to be a disaster for the energy sector.
In short, Biden’s plan entails transitioning the entire US energy grid to green production sources. To do so, Biden has already promised to spend $2 trillion in “accelerated investment” during his first term, not even half of the $4.5 trillion WoodMac estimates a total decarbonization of our grid would cost. Of course, this money has some heavy strings attached.
In order to force a so-called “clean energy revolution in America,” Biden would create a new federal EECES, presumably based on one of the 29 state level EECES currently in existence. These standards require that some portion of utility sales come from either low-carbon sources, like natural gas plants using carbon capture, or zero-carbon production, like wind or solar. While these state-level standards have been one driver of growth in renewable energy production, they have come at an incredibly high cost for consumers and have failed to achieve their goal of significantly reducing carbon emissions.
A study out of the University of Chicago in 2019 confirmed this. Analyzing data from all 29 states and the District of Columbia, this study found that Renewable Portfolio Standards (another name for EECES) have indeed “increase[d] renewable generation,” but have also resulted in “significantly increased retail electricity prices.”
Perhaps more importantly for environmentalists, the authors further found that the “cost of abating carbon emissions through an RPS policy is…several times higher than conventional estimates of the benefits of reducing a metric ton of CO2 emissions, a measure known as the social cost of carbon (SCC).” As the study notes, “the cost of abating carbon emissions through an RPS policy is…as much as $460 per metric ton.” By contrast, the Obama administration pegged the SCC at around $50 per metric ton. In other words, the cost of abating carbon emissions through EECES is significantly higher than through other market-based means.
To make matters worse, EECES are constantly in flux, swept along in the political battle over the environment. Because of consumer demand, several states actually exceeded their standards before the statutory deadline. Instead of congratulating the industry, instead states “have responded by setting increasingly aggressive requirements.” Environmentalist progressives ensure that this cycle never ends, creating a perpetual barrier for an industry that is already transitioning towards renewable energy.
Unfortunately, a whopping 64 percent of the electricity sold in the United States is already under some form of state EECES. But now Joe Biden wants to take the worst of the worst of environmental policy and make it a national standard.
Anytime the federal government decides to swoop in and fix what they perceive as the world’s problems they inevitably end up picking winners and losers. This remains true of EECES. Mandating top-down standards to reduce carbon emissions is not just a burden on the energy sector, but also inefficient at achieving their purpose. This is just another example of Democrats attempting to solve a problem that the markets are already addressing.
Consumer demand and innovation are already driving our transition to renewable energy more than federal mandates can. In the past decade, wind production has more than tripled, and total renewables production has more than doubled. Although some of this growth can be attributed to tax breaks and government mandates, the vast majority of growth has come from the market. According to Deloitte, the renewable energy industry began 2020 with “a new phase of growth driven largely by increasing customer demand, cost competitiveness, innovation, and collaboration.”
Biden’s ridiculous proposition that a new national EECES would simultaneously ”cut electricity bills and cut electricity pollution,” is blatantly ignorant. The Biden campaign ignores the fact that the costs of similar top-down mandates on energy producers and other industries have traditionally been passed directly on to the consumer. They further ignore that EECES have been one of the least cost-efficient ways to reduce carbon emissions. There are much better things that we could spend $2 trillion in taxpayers’ money on than subsidizing a transition of our energy grid that is already underway.