The $900 billion omnibus package was a “mixed bag of benefits, bailouts, and relief,” as my colleague Patrice Onwuka put it. While there’s plenty of overspending to worry about, one of the bright spots was the most significant energy legislation to pass Congress in over a decade.
The “Energy Act of 2020” was included in the omnibus as a combination of the Senate’s American Energy Innovation Act (S. 2657) and the House’s Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act (H.R. 4447).
The core of the bill authorizes new energy technology to receive the support it needs to succeed in the free market. The bill will lead to smarter, more targeted investments by the Department of Energy that are focused on real-world outcomes. That matters because the federal government and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have a bad habit of spreading millions of dollars without focusing on goals and outcomes. Under the Trump administration, we have seen dramatic improvements with how the department invests and partners with the private sector to ensure goals are in place and private sector companies are set up to succeed on their own. This bill builds on their progress.
The other critical component of this legislation is the authorization of energy project demonstrations. What does this mean? Basically, once an energy technology gets through the research and development process in a lab, the developers need to demonstrate that it works at scale. This bill supports demonstrations for critical technology like cutting-edge natural gas and coal carbon capture, advanced nuclear reactors, energy storage, and other technologies.
It also streamlines the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure such as CO2 pipelines, and supports other research and development initiatives.
A new analysis of the advanced energy technologies supported by the Energy Act of 2020 found that cost reductions could lead to billions of dollars each year in benefits for the U.S., without the need for additional federal climate policy. Most of those benefits will be realized in the form of cheaper energy, which Americans across the board can enjoy. In addition to lower consumer electricity bills, the energy provisions have the potential to create good-paying American energy and manufacturing jobs, and importantly, enhance America’s geopolitical strength. While we can hope that, moving forward, good policy won’t be crammed through a midnight omnibus spending deal, the small wins—such as this—are still worth celebrating.