Comment from Jennifer M. Granholm for CNN Business Perspectives
The image of a collapsed utility pole and power lines thrown into the Mississippi by Hurricane Ida illustrates a fundamental challenge facing the nation: Our power grids were not built to withstand extreme weather events. Without major investments in strengthening, modernizing and cleaning our network, the question is not whether it will fail, but when.
As the year progressed, we have a full view of the dangers ahead. Even before Ida there were forest fires and heat waves that threatened to overload the power grid, droughts that put a strain on hydropower generation, and a polar vortex that freezes gas production. These brawls are part of a long trend fueled by climate change – one that will only get worse if we continue to spit out carbon pollution.
As UN Secretary General António Guterres said, this is a red code for humanity. Fortunately, however, the Biden government has a plan to respond to: the Build Back Better Agenda, which will make essential critical investments to protect our infrastructure from the climatic impact and put our nation on the path to building a clean energy economy.
While some have questioned the scope of the President’s historic proposals, we should weigh their concerns against the exponentially skyrocketing cost of cleaning up after extreme weather events. In the 1980s, climate disaster remediation cost around $ 18 billion a year. Then the extreme weather intensified, causing costs to skyrocket. In the 1990s, we spent about $ 27 billion annually on the cleanup. In the 2000s, it cost nearly $ 52 billion annually. In the 2010s, cleaning costs skyrocketed to $ 81 billion. Then we’ve spent a whopping $ 121 billion a year for the past five years cleaning up after an angry Mother Nature.
We just can’t afford to stay on this path.
When these climate catastrophes hit the power system, they disrupt businesses, put massive strains on state and local budgets, and damage the health and prosperity of American families across the country. More than 100 million Americans were on heat alarm this summer. And it is low-income Americans – disproportionate among blacks, Latinos, and indigenous communities – who suffer the most direct and immediate harm. In Louisiana and Mississippi, those unable to evacuate after Hurricane Ida faced triple-digit temperatures while they waited for power to be restored.
To keep the American people safe, we need to increase their resilience to these powerful storms – which initially requires more transmission lines to carry electricity over long distances. This would reduce the likelihood of a local power plant failing during a storm and leaving communities without power.
We also need to make sure that the new infrastructure we are building can withstand the increasing climate impacts that we know are to come. This means, for example, replacing wooden poles with steel poles made of reinforced concrete and, where it makes sense, laying cables underground. In response to forest fires, Pacific Gas and Electric is working to bury 10,000 miles of power lines. We can repeat this effort in key areas most affected by extreme weather conditions.
Granted, additional lines, stronger masts, and strategic burial can’t prevent every weather disaster from power plant or transmission failure – but we can mitigate disruptions when they occur with decentralized clean energy systems.
Even when most of New Orleans was in the dark, residents of the St. Peter Apartments were able to enjoy eight hours of electricity a day thanks to the solar panels on the roof of the complex and the on-site battery storage. We should connect critical infrastructures and buildings to such renewable microgrids that can go online quickly and meet local needs. As we work to complete transmission upgrades over thousands of miles, cities and states can act quickly to implement and incentivize these smaller decentralized energy projects.
Yet even these steps will prove fruitless if we allow these natural disasters to become increasingly destructive and commonplace. The only way to really strengthen the grid over the long term and protect our communities is to build a clean energy economy. Many of the technologies we need to achieve an emission-free future – like solar energy – are already tried and tested, and deploying them on a scale would create massive jobs. If we were to generate 40% of our electricity from solar energy by 2035, we would create up to 1.5 million jobs – without increasing energy prices. Other clean energy technologies such as battery storage and clean hydrogen fuel cells hold great potential that we can develop with federal investments.
The good news is that the bipartisan infrastructure deal before Congress includes $ 27 billion in essential transmission investments – which could include strengthening transmission towers and burying transmission lines underground, in addition to expanding the broadband and EV bills. Charging components.
Part two of President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda – also known as the Reconciliation Act – provides the opportunity to ground these gearbox upgrades on a clean energy foundation. As members of Congress go through the process of drafting this bill, they can and should include measures such as tax credits to support additional clean energy capacity and technologies such as microgrids, block grants to state and local governments pursuing clean energy projects, and clean electricity performance Program – a combination of actions that put our nation on the right track to truly tackle climate change.
The net challenge may be daunting, but the decision we face is not a difficult one. We can continue to pollute the atmosphere and continue to pay billions to recover from extreme weather disasters as they worsen – leaving us in a never-ending cycle of destruction, disruption, and reconstruction. Or we can invest now to build a more resilient, cleaner energy system that will help us finally face the climate crisis and create millions of jobs in the process. The right choice couldn’t be clearer.
The CNN Wire
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