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New Hope on Energy

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 10:20


The coming year looks like it could be a good one for the climate. A portion of the federal Inflation Reduction Act passed in August contains hundreds of billions of dollars to move away from fossil fuel. Incentives in the act were designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 44 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.

According to the best available scientific consensus, the earth is warming, with devastating effects already being felt in heat waves, wildfires, droughts, catastrophic storms, and massive population disruptions. The United States contributes the second largest share of carbon dioxide — the primary greenhouse gas — after China. It is only fair that we do our part to reduce outputs. Rising sea level threatens the East End, as well as coastlines around the world, with enormous costs, both to manmade infrastructure and natural habitats.

Americans generally agree that something must be done about the rapidly changing climate. The environmental leader Bill McKibben, writing in The New Yorker recently, observed, “now the battle moves from hearts and heads to houses.” Add cars to that, too. Despite Tesla’s Hamptons ubiquity, most vehicles in the U.S. — 99 percent of the estimated 290 million cars and trucks on the road — run on gas or diesel. The ubiquitous Ford F150 V8 pickup truck, the best-selling vehicle in its class, gets a combined 19 miles to the gallon; upgrade to the automaker’s Raptor, and the number is 12 m.p.g. Not as popular nationally, but plenty are on the roads here, Jeep’s four-door Wrangler will take you only 14 miles on a gallon of gas. And, for every electric-powered Chevrolet Bolt on Montauk Highway, there are seemingly dozens of 13-m.p.g. Cadillac Escalades.

The Inflation Reduction Act maintains or extends existing tax incentives that had been set to run out under earlier legislation. These include a $7,500 consumer credit for clean-vehicle purchases — favoring those assembled in America. Buyers of efficient used vehicles will be eligible for a $4,000 tax credit. And, in a sweet irony, part of the act’s funding comes from increasing offshore oil and gas rental and royalty rates. But of course there are powerful voices behind the scenes pushing back. Fossil fuel companies have lobbyists working in every statehouse and on Capitol Hill to weaken the act’s implementation.

How we live is also a large part of how much carbon dioxide we emit per person. Residential demand is responsible for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in this country. There is much to be done — less than 4 percent of American residences have solar power. Clean energy tax credits to reduce consumption of fossil fuels house-by-house and encourage renewable sources of power are at the center of the law. Advocates say that it will reduce global emissions, lower energy prices, help export U.S. technical innovation, strengthen the economy, and foster a reliable and affordable energy sector. Again, Mr. McKibben: “Engineers have provided relatively cheap and incredibly elegant technology: The most cost-effective way to produce power is to point a sheet of glass at the sun.”

Some of the billions will go in the form of direct payments to state and local governments to fund conversion projects, including to fund residential conversions, as well as for changes to agricultural and forestry practices. Under the provisions in the act, energy efficient home improvement credits jump, as do up to $14,000 in rebates for households making changes, subject to relatively generous income limits. The money can go to a range of projects, including heat pumps, electrical panels, electric stoves, wiring, and insulation. Homeowners can get help switching from oil and gas furnaces to heat pumps, saving money up front and to shorten payback periods. Credits for electrical induction cooktops are included as well.

Communities will have to get on board. Mr. McKibben calls for on-the-ground work, such as putting pressure on public utility boards or clean-energy activists seeking posts on zoning and planning boards. Other work could involve aggregating solar and other “green” projects by encouraging neighborhoods to buy in bulk — and bringing costs down by encouraging competition and removing permit bottlenecks. New, high-paying jobs could boost local economies, with the demand for electricians, contractors, and infrastructure workers soaring into the millions nationwide.

There is reason for optimism.


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