A bill may be passed today in Congress that will make clean energy solutions cheaper. What’s in it for us as consumers?
For a large segment of the population, a very important part of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign was the promise to take serious action on climate change, and he set an ambitious goal to do it: reduce the United States’ greenhouse gas pollution from its peak by 2030. Meeting that target could help avoid– or at least delay–the worst case scenario predictions of a climate disaster: extreme weather, toxic air, uninhabitable regions and conflicts over resources like food and water. Largely blocked by the efforts of the maverick Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, a deal was eventually struck when Manchin was ready to make concessions.
The U.S. bears a heavy responsibility when it comes to climate change. It has produced far more greenhouse gases over the course of history than any other nation and remains a leading source today. Yet in recent years the U.S. has failed to play its role in managing climate change; it has done considerably less to reduce emissions than Europe, for example. As the world’s most powerful country, with the ability to influence climate policy in China, India and elsewhere, the U.S. is at the center of the issue.
By the end of today, Congress will likely have passed the biggest climate bill in U.S. history. “I don’t mean this as an exaggeration: This really changes everything,” said Jesse Jenkins, a climate policy expert at Princeton University. “It is effectively going to shift the financial case away from dirty energy toward clean energy for everyone.”
So how will the bill help us combat climate change? The bill’s climate provisions are mostly a collection of subsidies for clean energy that does not emit any carbon, like solar, wind and nuclear power. Without those subsidies, polluting fossil fuels are often still cheaper. The subsidies change the basic economics of fighting climate change, as energy giants and the public, will generally go with the cheapest source of production or consuming. This bill tries to level the playing field of cost between fossil fuel energy and clean energy, incentivizing policies and behaviors that will eventually bring results.
For consumers, the subsidies will reduce the prices of electric vehicles, solar panels, heat pumps and other energy-efficient home improvements. You can claim the subsidies in multiple ways: through tax filings; as a separate rebate if you don’t file taxes; or, in some cases, immediately when you make a purchase. From buying a car to making home improvements, the hope is that if it’s cheaper the consumer will go with the clean energy alternative.
Will this solve the problem of climate change? Not really, climate change has taken on a momentum that cannot be stopped, but it will make a difference and even a modest difference is crucial at this point. But just as importantly, it will restore credibility to the U.S. as a nation that cares about the rest of the world and is willing to do its share to shoulder its responsibilities.