A draft of the Democratic Party's 2020 platform made public this week outlined a build-out of wind and solar energy that would far outpace current projections, calling for the installation of 500 million solar panels in the next five years alongside 60,000 new wind turbines.
A copy of the draft platform, which will serve as a guiding document for the party as it heads into this year's election, echoes a goal to reach carbon-free power by 2035 that Joe Biden’s campaign recently included in a $2 trillion clean energy plan. Under the draft Democratic plan, the U.S. would also strive to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 2050 or earlier. To get there, Democrats said the party would mobilize “historic, transformative public and private investments to launch a clean energy revolution.”
Many climate advocates have already begun to pressure the party to strengthen the document's climate proposals.
Five hundred million solar panels equates to about 175 gigawatts of capacity added over five years. Under current conditions, Wood Mackenzie now forecasts the U.S. will add 113 megawatts of solar from 2020 to 2025, meaning the Democratic plan would increase additions by just north of 50 percent.
Biden’s $2 trillion plan called for “the installation of millions of solar panels,” making the solar element of the Democrats' draft plan more concrete.
As things currently stand, onshore and offshore wind projections for the next presidential term, which will run from 2021 to early 2025, add up to nearly 37 gigawatts, according to WoodMac. The target of 60,000 wind turbines, even if that goal includes only lower-capacity onshore turbines, would roughly equate to a significant addition of 180 gigawatts. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. has about 60,000 operational onshore turbines, totaling 110 gigawatts, but turbine capacities continue to increase at a rapid pace.
Any near-term wind policy changes are most likely to impact onshore wind, as offshore wind projects take much longer to develop, and the U.S. industry remains nascent.
“A change in policy coming in early 2021 could lead to a boom in wind build as soon as year-end 2022, definitely by 2023,” said Max Cohen, a principal analyst at WoodMac, in an email.
The draft platform also called for jobs in clean energy generation, energy efficiency, clean transportation and advanced manufacturing to be unionized, and for the U.S. to require “Buy Clean” and “Buy America” standards for federally supported infrastructure projects. To aid the deployment of such significant amounts of renewables, the U.S. would build out more interstate transmission.
In addition to pursuing clean energy technologies to reduce emissions, Democrats said they would invest in research and development for technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration, which scientists say are needed to keep planetary warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
An intention to direct “a significant portion of clean energy and sustainable infrastructure investments to historically marginalized communities” reflects the party’s more recent emphasis on environmental justice and its embrace of some elements of a Green New Deal in response to pressure from community and environmental activists. But after the draft was released, many green groups said the plan does not go nearly far enough to seriously confront climate change, pointing to the party's unwillingness to set a deadline for the phaseout of fossil fuels or commit to efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
"These are not ambitious goals, considering that solar production doubled during the Trump administration thanks to market forces alone. The platform must do better," reads a petition that calls for strengthening the platform circulated by Climate Hawks Vote, an environmental group founded by DNC delegate RL Miller.
Democrats will update and approve the platform at the 2020 convention, to be held in August.