Electrifying Entire Government Seen as Way to Cut Emissions (1)

  • Greening public housing, federal buying among group’s advice
  • White House hosting electrification summit Wednesday

(Updates with additional detail on incentives in last section.)

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The federal government can significantly slash carbon pollution by 2030 through widespread electrification of buildings, vehicle fleets, and procurement—moving the country much closer to the Biden administration’s climate goals, a new study finds.

The federal government—the largest US landowner, fleet operator, and purchaser—consumes vast amounts of energy. A wholesale transition away from fossil-fuel-based appliances and cars, coupled with a national strategy that promotes rebates available through the climate, tax, and health spending law that Congress enacted this summer would be powerful in curbing emissions, analysts from Rewiring America, a nonprofit advocating for countrywide electrification, reported Tuesday.

The plan could reduce an extra 333 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next eight years, the analysts said, getting the administration two-thirds of the way to its overall reduction goal.

The recommendations come a day before the White House hosts an electrification summit with industry, government, and academic leaders to discuss how electrifying everything from residential appliances to federal vehicle fleets can help the country achieve President Joe Biden’s goals of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050. The administration last week announced a target of cutting energy use and electrifying equipment and appliances in 30% of federal buildings by 2030.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Rows of cabinets containing lithium ion batteries line Long Beach, Calif.’s AES Alamitos Battery Energy Storage System on Sept. 16, 2022. The facility provides renewable energy to supply electricity during peak demand periods.

The Inflation Reduction Act (Public Law 117-169) contains a potential $858 billion in residential electrification benefits over the next decade, “but only if all eligible households know how to access those dollars,” the Rewiring America report concluded. Electrification involves moving away from direct fossil fuel use to powering buildings, vehicles, and appliances with more efficient, cleaner forms of energy that rely on battery storage.

Combining the spending in the climate law with executive actions through procurement and federal programs could close the gap even further between climate targets and actual emissions reductions, said Stephen Pantano, head of research at Rewiring America and Cora Wyent, a research associate with the group.

The White House should appoint a national electrification adviser to oversee a whole-of-government strategy ranging from retrofitting low-income households through multiple federal programs to training an electric workforce, the authors recommended.

Mortgages, Public Housing

Electrifying federal buildings and the federal fleet represent the lowest-hanging fruit among Rewiring America’s recommendations, said Wyent. That’s because the government has already taken action in these areas and has control over its real estate, she said. Pantano also said more robust standards for electrifying appliances, buildings, and vehicles through programs such as Energy Star designations would be relatively easy for the government to put in place.

Greening public and assisted housing is a heavier lift because the Housing and Urban Development Department is underfunded and grappling with deferred maintenance and health and safety in existing units. Wyent called that recommendation difficult but among the group’s most important. “We want to make sure low-income communities aren’t left behind” on electrification, she said. More than 10 million Americans receive housing assistance.

The government also could educate people about the tax credits and rebates for electric appliances in the IRA through federally backed home mortgages, the report said. The law includes tax credits and rebates for things like heat pumps, electric stoves, and insulation. The mortgage process is a major “touchpoint” for educating the public, Wyent said, because that’s when people are looking to replace or upgrade appliances, roofs, and other household infrastructure.

As a further incentive, the group recommended pairing federally backed mortgages with an electrification loan for homebuyers.

The group also made several electrification recommendations specific to the Defense Department. Defense is the government’s single largest greenhouse gas emitter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kellie Lunney in Washington at klunney@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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