Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidacy, on Thursday released his long-awaited climate platform. The document adopts the "Green New Deal" moniker and calls for a climate and justice-centered revolution “from the Oval Office to the streets.”
The Sanders Green New Deal promises a remake of essentially all aspects of U.S. society by eliminating support for the fossil fuel industry and buoying clean energy through investments in wind and solar, energy efficiency and electrified transport. “Climate change will be factored into virtually every area of policy,” the plan reads. It requires 100 percent renewable electricity and transportation by 2030 at the latest.
The document confronts the plan’s ambition with characteristic Sanders candor: “The federal government electrified America as part of the New Deal. The United States of America put people on the moon 50 years ago,” it reads. “We can sure as hell transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewables today and create millions of jobs in the process.”
All told, the campaign said the plan would require investment of $16.3 trillion — the biggest spend a Democratic candidate has proposed thus far — with $1.52 trillion going directly to renewable energy and $852 billion to the build-out of energy storage. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal is a close second, at $2 trillion for clean energy programs.
Under Sanders, a $526 billion smart grid would distribute electricity, which will be publicly owned and managed by five Power Market Administrations (there are currently four), the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
To pay for it all, the Sanders campaign said it would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, cut back global military spending on oil-related activities — proposals similar to those in Warren’s various climate-related plans — and rely on new income tax revenue from the 20 million jobs it said the plan will create. The Sanders administration would also rake in money from electricity revenues between 2023 and 2035, after which it said electricity will be “virtually free," as well as making “the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share."
The latest proposal comes just after Washington Governor Jay Inslee, the self-proclaimed “climate candidate,” dropped from the 2020 Democratic race on Wednesday evening. Inslee’s departure leaves a vacuum for a climate leader in the Democratic field, making Sanders’ release well timed.
While many environmental groups applauded Sanders’ climate plan on Thursday — Food & Water Watch called it a “clear benchmark,” while the League of Conservation Voters said “there is a lot to like” — others questioned the absence of technologies like nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage. In an October report, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) included those technologies in some of its scenarios to keep global warming below 1.5° C.
Self-described “center-left” think tank Third Way, which has received funding from Koch Industries in the past according to recent reporting, said it agrees with Sanders’ plan to meet net-zero emissions by 2050, significantly invest in R&D and center frontline communities. But Lindsey Walter, the organization’s senior clean energy policy adviser, said in an email that “there’s a lot more in the Sanders plan that’s enormously problematic.”
“The campaign appears to have not read the full IPCC report, which recommends using every carbon-free solution to tackle climate change,” said Walter.
The Sanders camp calls those technologies "false solutions."
But can storage keep up?
Analysts at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables noted that the energy storage targets set out in the plan would also be difficult to meet based on current forecasted investments. Dan Finn-Foley, WoodMac’s head of energy storage research, said cumulative global investment in energy storage is forecasted to reach about $70 billion by 2024, the last year WoodMac has forecasted. The U.S. market is expected to reach $5 billion annually by 2024.
To meet Sanders’ goal of $852 billion investment for storage through 2030, the U.S. would have to increase its current compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for that technology from 27 percent to 70 percent.
“That doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” said Finn-Foley. “In 1939 the U.S. manufactured 2,141 airplanes. In 1945 that number surged to 45,852 for a CAGR of 67 percent, nearly matching the rate needed to scale up energy storage through 2030 under Senator Sanders’ proposal.”
Last year the U.S. invested $21 billion in solar energy, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Growing those numbers to achieve Sanders' target would be a Herculean lift, but that’s exactly what most Democratic candidates are calling for.
“Climate change is a global emergency,” reads the Sanders platform. “The cost of inaction is inacceptable.”