Defense Production move a win for climate and energy bills

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would use its trade authority and employ the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to address one of the country’s most fundamental security issues: our need for clean, reliable energy. President Biden’s move would freeze tariffs on many imported solar panels and dramatically expand domestic manufacturing of products like heat pumps and weatherization components, ramping up our transition to clean energy.

At a time when Minnesota and the nation are struggling to cut emissions at the scale needed to confront climate change, this is great news – and a credit to the climate activists who have been pushing for this move. It’s also an entirely appropriate use of the Defense Production Act – study after study shows that our country’s biggest security threat is climate disruption and energy woes.

Harnessing the wind and sun are the only ecologically and economically viable path to face these challenges, and the President’s order is a step in the right direction. We were glad to see Minnesota’s largest newspaper recognize this in an editorial last week.

The solar energy portion of this order will help stabilize an industry facing challenges with securing parts from East Asia and bring solar projects all over the country to the building phase. That will both reduce carbon and money – thanks to new technology and economies of scale, solar is now considered the cheapest source of electricity in history.

In Minnesota, solar is only about 3% of our electricity mix, but that number is growing alongside wind power, which generates about one-fifth of our power. More panels, storage, and upgrades to our electrical grid through this executive order will allow us to take advantage of homegrown energy and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. After all, Minnesota has no major reserves of natural gas, petroleum, or coal. It’s also a move in favor of reliability – as we saw from Texas’s recent energy woes that spilled into Minnesota customers’ bills, natural or “fossil” gas is by no means a safe or stable source of electricity.

With our electricity generation mix getting cleaner, the simultaneous challenge is replacing the ways we heat our buildings with electric power. That’s where heat pumps come in: these devices can both heat and cool a home far more efficiently than gas furnaces. To be effective in hot-summer/cold-winter states like Minnesota, however, they must be paired with better insulation, another product covered under the President’s decision.

At a time when progress on clean energy and reducing building emissions is struggling to get legislative traction, we need all the help we can get from the President’s executive pen.

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