President Joe Biden’s signature climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, promises to reduce carbon emissions by more than 32% over the next 10 years. The legislation aims to create millions of clean energy jobs and loan millions to fund clean energy projects, with 40% of its funding benefiting disadvantaged communities. Covering the IRA’s roll-out is an opportunity for newsrooms to examine how well these promises are met in practice. Covering Climate Now invited three leading experts discuss the bill’s roll-out.
- Lori Lodes, Executive Director of Climate Power
- Jigar Shah, Director of the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office
- Peggy Shepard, Co-founder and Executive Director of WE ACT
Below, see information shared by panelists and journalists during the event:
Climate Power: During the press briefing, Lori Lodes shared a public dataset tracking new clean energy projects, and the associated new jobs created, since the IRA passed. The methodology for the dataset can be found in Clean Power’s recent report, “Clean Energy Boom.” For more, see “The Clean Energy Plan,” their overview of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Mayors Innovation Project: The C40 & Climate Mayors Guidebook, “Climate Action and the Inflation Reduction Act: A Guide for Local Government Leaders,” was created to help mayors, city staff, and local leaders understand how to access funding available through the IRA.
TED: Peggy Shepard’s TED talk, with over 1.5 million views, is “How to Build an Equitable and Just Climate Future.”
US Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office: An overview of IRA incentives, an explanation of how IRA funding was appropriated to LPO programs, monthly application activity reports by sector and region of activity, and how the office can support virtual power plant projects to prepare the grid for electrification at scale.
WE ACT for Environmental Justice: Justice40rward, launched by President Joe Biden, is an initiative to inform the public about the billions of federal dollars in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, and other appropriations that can be accessed to address environmental injustices in communities.
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication: “Climate Change in the American Mind” is a recent study on how registered voters view a variety of domestic climate and energy policies.
The 51 Percent Project is an organization that identifies best practices for climate communication. See: “How to Talk About Climate Change so People Will Listen.”
Mark Hertsgaard: Hello and welcome to another Talking Shop with Covering Climate Now. I’m Mark Hertsgaard, the executive director of Covering Climate Now, and also the environment correspondent for the Nation Magazine. On today’s Talking Shop, which actually technically is a press briefing, our subject is covering the rollout of the Inflation Reduction Act. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Covering Climate Now is a global collaboration of more than 500 news outlets, with a combined audience of some two billion people. We’re organized by journalists, for journalists, to help all of us do better coverage of the defining story of our time. It doesn’t cost anything to join Covering Climate Now. There’s no editorial line you have to follow except respect for climate science, which we’ll be talking about today. You can go to our website coveringclimatenow.org. You can find a list of partners, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Climate Beat, check out our resources, join our Slack channel, and so forth, and even apply to join Covering Climate Now. And as a reminder, this session is for journalists, and the chat room in particular is reserved for questions and information sharing between journalists.
Now, the Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed into law last summer is by far the most ambitious climate legislation ever enacted in the United States. The bill passed the United States Senate by a single vote over the unanimous opposition of all 50 Republicans and after concessions to Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, including more permitting of fossil fuel projects, a provision that’s back in the news this week as the Biden administration approved the Willow Oil Project in Alaska.
As a result of these political pressures, it’s important to recognize that this historic climate legislation actually does not directly restrict fossil fuel development. Rather, the IRA offers massive incentives for green energy, to urge individuals and businesses and others to choose that over fossil fuels. The law also authorizes an estimated $369 billion worth of such incentives, which its backers project could reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by roughly one third over the coming decade.
But whether those emission reductions actually take place will depend on what we’re talking about today. Passing a law is one thing, implementing it another. So how many American households and workplaces are, or will be, taking advantage of the tax credits and the other incentives in this bill? Will local and state governments actually help to spread the word about these opportunities, or will we see a replay of the tussle over President Barack Obama’s expansion of healthcare coverage, when some Republican-led states opted out? How many new factories are being built? How many new workers are being hired because of the IRA? And crucially, will the rollout of the Inflation Reduction Act honor the Biden Administration’s pledge that 40% of environmental spending will benefit communities historically disadvantaged by racism and poverty?
These are some of the angles that make the IRA a rich subject for news coverage in the weeks and months ahead. And to get us, as journalists, up to speed on these issues, Covering Climate Now has brought together three superbly qualified panelists. I’ll introduce all three of them at once in a moment. We’ll hear from them during the first half hour of this press briefing, and in the second half, of course, your questions and their answers. While all this is going on, you’re welcome to tweet using @coveringclimate and the hashtag, #ccnow.
And now, I hope you’ll join me in offering a warm virtual welcome to all of our panelists. Lori Lodes, she’s the executive director and the co-founder of the strategic communications operation, Climate Power, which has been tracking the job creation and business investments sparked by the Inflation Reduction Act. Previously, Lori worked in the Obama Administration, helping to implement the Affordable Care Act, and also as the director of corporate communications for Apple. Jigar Shah, he’s the director of the Loans Program Office in the US Department of Energy. Previously, he was the founder of SunEdison, a company that pioneered so-called, “Pay As You Save Solar Financing,” which really transformed that whole sector in the American economy. He was also the CEO of the Carbon War Room, a global nonprofit founded by Sir Richard Branson to help entrepreneurs address climate change. And Peggy Shepard, she’s the co-founder and executive director of We Act for Environmental Justice, a nonprofit based in Harlem. And in addition to her community-based organizing, she has co-chaired the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the New York City Environmental Justice Advisory Board. And I’m very grateful to have her in particular, she’s been a longtime source of mine, really toiling in these vineyards for a long time. We’re very lucky to have all three of these people joining us today. So as I say, please give them a warm virtual welcome here online with Covering Climate Now. We’re going to start with you, Jigar, and I know you have a couple of slides just to set the general background on this, so take it away.
Jigar Shah: Thanks, Mark. And just pull up the slides whenever you guys are ready. Perfect. So the Loan Program’s Office was really started in 2005, with a recognition that we needed to get the cost down of a lot of these technologies. And so, the two main programs that have been quite successful are the Innovative Clean Energy Program, where a lot of the first 100 megawatt plus solar and wind projects, battery storage projects were funded. Many of the technologies we funded there are now fully cost-effective and no longer need our support because they’ve really crossed that bridge to bankability. There was an additional $40 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act put into that program. The next program is the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, where we famously funded Tesla, Ford, Nissan, more recently, General Motors’ Ultium platform, as well as Critical Minerals Projects. And so, these are very established programs, and we’ve had loans there for over 10 years.
The Tribal Energy Loan Program is a new program that started in 2017. We’ve recently rehabilitated it and have about a half a billion dollars worth of projects already come in for that that we’re processing. The next one is this Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment Program, and that one really seeks to think about the place-based initiative that the president and the secretary are pushing. So when you think about we have 85,000 displaced workers from retiring coal plants, natural gas plants, you have a lot of justice communities that live in the wake of a lot of these plants, and figuring out how we build new infrastructure in those places that provide good quality jobs, but also a lot of benefits to the local community is something that this money is for.
And so, you’re seeing a lot of transformation of old projects into manufacturing facilities for supply chain, or into solar plus battery storage facilities, or other infrastructure projects that take advantage of the trained workforce in the region, but also the interconnection, the rail, the port access, are the things that are there. And then, the last is CO2 transportation infrastructure, and so making sure that we actually have the trunk lines to sequester carbon. Next slide.
And so, when you think about what we do, I think we are very responsive to the sectors that folks want us to chase, but ultimately, people have to spend several hundred hours worth of time to put in loan applications. And so, when you look at the monthly application activity report, this is where we show people where we have the most applications. Right now, we’re processing 135 active applications, seeking about $124 billion in loans. And because it’s roughly 50/50 equity debt, that’s $250 billion of projects that have submitted paperwork to us. When you think about that number relative to where we want to go, the US, with the Inflation Reduction Act, is really sending a signal that we want to commercialize these technologies, not only for the United States, but for everyone around the world. So when you think about the role that we played in really reducing the cost of electric vehicles, of solar, of wind, we want to play a similar role in reducing the cost of geothermal, low impact hydro, and other major technologies, as we help those technologies cross the bridge to bankability, to a really market affirming place where you can start to save gigatons of carbon around the world. Next slide.
And the projects are all throughout the United States. And so, as part of the Energy Act of 2020, we were asked to really track where these projects are, and it turns out that there’s a lot of places in the United States that want this kind of economic development in their community. And I would say that the vast majority of the 161 proposed project sites are next to disadvantaged communities where a lot of the benefits are going. And so, we’re asking for community benefits plans for all of these projects. I think when you look at some of the next generation approaches that people are using to hire from local community, you’re seeing folks work more closely with disadvantaged communities to make sure that they have preferred access to these jobs and to these careers. And so, it’s not just the same people, but actually making sure that we’re not just reversing the trend of excluding people back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, but in fact, being very deliberate around making sure that everyone gets access to the benefits from these projects. Next slide.
And so, when you think about our portfolio, this is where we currently have projects operating, and the green dots are the new projects that we’ve recently approved here at the Loan Programs Office. So very exciting about where this is going. Some recent projects in local impact, Ultium is the General Motors project, that’s 6,000 construction jobs, 5,100 permanent operations jobs in Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. They’re working with a union under a national maintenance agreement, but also are recruiting operations folks from disadvantaged communities. The Li-Cycle Project in Rochester, New York is a first of a kind lithium ion battery hydrometallurgical resource recovery facility, so really recycling old lithium ion batteries to make critical minerals. So much safer way of doing these things than mining. It’s 1,000 plus construction jobs, they’re working with local unions to be able to ramp to that level. They’re already at 200 construction jobs. They’ve got to be at 1,000 by the middle of the summer, and they’ll have 270 permanent operations jobs. They’ve committed to hiring local labor, and they have identified disadvantaged communities in the Rochester, New York area where they’re focused in the 10 counties around their facility. And Li-Cycle is having monthly meetings with the county of Monroe Industrial Development Agency and local labor groups.
The last thing I’d say really here is that LPO’s approach really is private sector led and government enabled. I think when you think about how big we need to go, there’s lots of grant programs and we’re very proud of those programs and those programs will continue to put money into the community, but to be able to reduce our carbon emissions by a third, we’re talking about attracting close to $23 trillion of private sector investment. So the goal here is to take the money that we’ve gotten from the Inflation Reduction Act, and teach the private sector how to do these things properly, not just for the projects that we’re involved in, but for all the projects that come in after that that we’re not involved in.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you, Jigar. $23 trillion. Did I hear that correctly?
Jigar Shah: Yes. It’s a big amount of money, but it’s actually what we already spend. So the amount of money that we spend every year to replace stuff that breaks gets you to that $23 trillion. So it’s not new money as much as, instead of building stuff the same way we did in the 70s, we’re saying build it with new technology in a better way, making sure the benefits go to justice communities. And I do think that keeping that coalition together of climate jobs and justice is going to be critical to be able to get the acceptance necessary to get all the way through this energy transition.
Mark Hertsgaard: Let me ask one more follow-up before I go to Lori Lodes. I mentioned in my introduction that this historic bill, Inflation Reduction Act, it kind of does a, “Carrot not stick.” In other words, there’s not restrictions in there on fossil fuel development, there’s a big, big push on clean energy. I want to make sure I’ve got that correct, and that, my question to you is, assuming that is accurate, are we on the trajectory, with the programs that you and the rest of the Administration are laying out, are we on a trajectory where green energy can be so incentivized and driven to be so cheap that it is going to push fossil fuels out of the market so that entrepreneurs and consumers and homeowners said, “I’m going to go in the new green direction, not the brown one”?
Jigar Shah: Yeah. I think the frame that we’re using is that, everything that breaks that we replace has to be replaced with things that are part of the energy transition. So when you have an air conditioning system breaks, we got to figure out a way to get you a heat pump. And when you have a car that you need to replace, we need to get you into a low-emissions vehicle like an electric vehicle. And I think you see that today. There were a lot of jokes around how electric vehicles were very expensive last year, but today, there are four cars below $25,000 that have launched for electric vehicles. And so, when you think about where we are headed, we really are making it more cost-effective to choose the right replacement for the things that are breaking. And that’s really where we’re headed. And we replace one-sixteenth of all of the appliances in this country every year. So this is not a long transition, 16 years to really replace a lot of the bad stuff with good stuff.
Mark Hertsgaard: That’s a perfect transition to Lori Lodes. Lori, as I mentioned, has been, her and her organization, Climate Power, have been tracking basically how this money is going out the door, and more importantly, what it is doing in communities. So Lori, take us through that a little bit, and just, again, a reminder for all of the panelists here, that you’re being watched by a bunch of journalists who want to be covering this story going forward. So the more that you can be suggesting, “Oh, here’s something to look into, here’s a place that you might want to go and report on,” the better. So tell us, I think there was a piece back in Bloomberg over a month ago that a 100,000 green jobs have already been created, but take us through the numbers on all that, if you would please.
Lori Lodes: Sure. And I think, Mark, you’ve really hit on it. This is really a local story, because what we are seeing, and Jigar really touched on this in his remarks, is that clean energy is happening all across this country, and it’s happening right now because of President Biden’s Clean Energy Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act, companies are hiring in small towns, in big cities across the country. So I just want to look at the numbers that since the Inflation Reduction Act passed, and if we remember, that’s about six months ago, mid-August, to date or in that six months, we have seen almost 110,000 clean energy jobs created by companies, 109,379. And as you can imagine, that number every day keeps growing and growing and growing. That’s 126 clean energy projects in 34 states. So it really is just getting started, but it’s hitting most of the states in the country. And Jigar talked about that 13 trillion or 23 trillion, sorry. Already what we have seen from these private sectors investing in these communities and in their companies is $193.3 billion. That’s a huge amount in a really short amount of time.
But I want to dig in a little bit because, Mark, your point about where do you go, where are these stories happening? The plans include 49 new battery manufacturing sites in places like Van Buren Township, Michigan, Florence County, South Carolina. So far, companies have announced plans for 24 new or expanded electric vehicle manufacturing facilities. I’m from Oklahoma, and one of the places is Pryor, Oklahoma, also Montgomery, Alabama. 22 plans have been announced to expand wind and solar manufacturing in cities such as Pueblo, Colorado, or Perrysburg, Ohio and Georgetown, Texas.
So these jobs are happening everywhere. Nearly three quarters of these jobs, so of the 109,000 jobs, nearly three quarters are in red, what we consider to be red states, right? These are states that President Trump won in 2020. And in fact, the majority of these projects are really in eight states so far, states such as Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and I know there’s reporters on here from Texas and yes, Texas. And it’s really a nationwide clean energy plan that’s creating new industries and made in America supply chains in these critical areas such as batteries and such as storage. I want to share a quick story. We have-
Mark Hertsgaard: Hey, Lori, let me interrupt you for one second.
Lori Lodes: Of course.
Mark Hertsgaard: And just clarify, correct me if I’m wrong, I think reporters can access a database at your website that has all of these. So saying to my colleagues now, if you’re listening to all this and it’s all going by a little fast, realize you can go to the website at Climate Power. We’ll try and put that in the chat, in fact, and you’ll be able to see exactly where these projects are happening and decide, okay, I want to do that one and maybe that one, et cetera. Sorry, Lori, go ahead.
Lori Lodes: No, no, no. As soon as I stop talking, I will post the airtable in here. It’s not on our own site. We have an airtable that we are constantly updating every day with where these announcements are happening. And just so you know how we’re tracking these announcements, these are all public announcements that some of you have covered or press releases that companies have released. We’re working closely with America Clean Power and SIA and other venture capitalists to understand where are these jobs happening and what type of jobs they are. I think one of the things that’s really important that I touched on is these jobs are across the gamut. They are construction jobs, as Jigar said, that are hiring a thousand plus people temporarily. And then there’s the permanent jobs that are from everything from yes, engineers, but also mechanics and also welders, right? So we are touching on all sorts of different types of qualifications. Most of these jobs will not require a four year degree, and so it really is revitalizing and strengthening the American economy, but local economies.
I want to just provide one anecdote before I stop talking is we have a film crew outside of Pittsburgh today talking to workers about their jobs and what they’re doing. And the thing that I think is so important is, this is outside of Pittsburgh, Westinghouse used to build their transformers in this plant, but it shut down. The community was, not surprisingly, devastated. It’s a small community, about 5,000 people. The high school shut down, businesses closed. The company has been able to bring back a lot of good paying long-term jobs while also bringing the supply chain back into the US. Recently, they’ve been hiring 25 people a week, and they can’t keep up. And they’re basically hiring anyone and everyone they can that’s willing to do the job. And it’s restoring the community, which I think is really about the opportunity we see here. It’s not just about the jobs, it’s about the community benefits. It’s about how these jobs are going or these projects are happening in disadvantaged communities. And so I just want to end on how huge this opportunity is in that we are really just at the very, very beginning of it, and it’s going to keep on building and building and growing.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks, Lori. That’s Lori Lodes. She’s with Climate Power nonprofit based in Washington DC. And now Peggy, Peggy Shepard of WE ACT in Harlem. Peggy, the President got a lot of attention, frankly, in environmental circles when he and his administration said early on, “We recognize that there have been historic injustices done and that the environmental burden in this country does not fall equally on all people. We are going to make sure that 40% of the spending going forward actually is targeted at communities that have been historically disadvantaged by racism, by poverty and so forth.” Your organization is part of something called Justice40rward, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, you can correct me, that is trying to track this. And I think to my fellow journalists, this is a really important part of the IRA rollout. And again, it’s something that is very, very local. We always say at Covering Climate Now that when you’re trying to make your coverage accessible to the public on climate change, you need to do three things. You need to humanize your story with people, you need to localize it in a place that people recognize and you need to solutionize it, talk about what’s going to be fixing the problem, not just the problem itself. Peggy, it seems that that’s exactly what you’re trying to track on this. So can you give us a sense of how well is the IRA rollout so far living up to the President’s 40% pledge?
Peggy Shepard: The good news is that there are billions of dollars going out into communities. The bad news is are those communities ready to access those funds? And so we have 40% of the investments in clean energy from the IRA going to frontline communities, but we know that at least 60% of that money is going directly to states. So again, how do community-based organizations access money from the state? Do they have relationships with their states? Have they been in relationship? Do they have those networks in order to reach out to those states so that the states know what those shovel-ready projects are, know what those needs are? So that’s one key issue. Another issue is that we’re finding that small cities and small towns don’t have access to grant writers to apply for this money. I’ve had a couple of small towns along the Hudson River in New York state give me a call to ask about the money and to say, well, maybe they can pull together a collaboration of small towns to kick in some money so that they can hire a grant writer.
So what we’re finding is that most organizations and municipalities were not ready for this incredible opportunity. And so we’ve got small towns that have had sewage treatment problems for years who have flooding, who have other kinds of lead service line issues. And this money could be crucial to them, but can they apply for it? Do they have the internal infrastructure for grantsmanship? So that’s one key issue. So we’ve talked about small towns and municipalities, and even a city as large as New York often has a problem with applying for grants. So we look at community-based organizations and small environmental justice groups. Now, these are very small organizations. Many of them do not have a grant writer, have never applied for a federal grant, never applied for a state grant. And so suddenly they have the opportunity to apply for this money, but may not have the infrastructure.
So again, people are not really ready for this incredible opportunity. There are also not a lot of organizations like Climate Power that have the infrastructure to actually track this money. And that’s a key problem. And in talking to philanthropy, one thing I have said is there have got to be more organizations resourced to actually track funds. And even the very large national environmental groups have not had the experience in having to do that. And they’re now understanding that they do need to track these funds and again, need to develop the infrastructure to do that. Now, philanthropy has been attempting to play a role. They have developed a variety of accelerators to provide technical assistance to small CBOs again, but there aren’t enough resources to provide the staffing that a lot of small community-based organizations, frontline organizations, really need if they’re going to be effective in applying for these grants.
Another thing that we find, as a result of Covid, is that a lot of municipalities have no staff. I mean, staff are leaving cities in droves because a lot of cities are expecting that their staff will come to work every day. And staff are now looking at jobs that might pay more, but where they don’t have to go into an office every day. So we’ve even heard that some states have significant amounts of money and may have to return it because they don’t have the infrastructure or the staffing to actually get that money out the door and to administer those grants. So we have a huge infrastructure problem in this country. And I don’t mean bridges and tunnels, but I mean actual staffing and grantsmanship. And so in some cases, we may find that this money goes to the usual suspects. And so organizations like mine are working to develop hubs in particular cities and states to grant to them so that they can develop a collaboration to begin to work with their state or their municipality to let them know what the shovel-ready projects are, to let them know what some of those needs are. Because again, we’re talking about communities, frontline communities that have been disinvested in for decades and really not brought into decision making. And so again, do states even know what some of those needs are in these frontline communities?
So again, we really need to develop the kinds of collaborations between communities and states and localities so that everybody really understands the real opportunity here. And I’ll tell you, I am in numbers of rooms with elected officials and I ask them, “If you’ve ever heard of Justice40, raise your hand,” and nobody raises their hand. So we have a huge communications issue. And I believe the administration is now trying to get their folks out on the road in these cities to talk about the opportunities, but we have an infrastructure and a communications issue that if not solved, the money will not go to the intended frontline communities.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks very much. That’s Peggy Shepard with WE ACT. Before we go to questions, let me just follow quickly, Jigar, she’s mentioning here some of the difficulties on what the administration’s trying to do. Have you noticed, and I’m not asking you to speak for the administration as a whole here, your job is to run the loan office, but I assume that you’re in some of those discussions. Have you tried and is there progress being made on breaking through this infrastructure difficulty that Peggy Shepard was just describing to where you don’t have a replay basically of the Affordable Care Act where states and local governments and parts of the country just say, we’re not doing that?
Jigar Shah: Yeah. So in general, we haven’t seen that. I mean, as Lori was suggesting, there’s a huge amount of enthusiasm from Wyoming, Oklahoma, from Alabama, Mississippi, so lots of red states per se. So I don’t think this is a red/blue thing. I’d say that in general, what we’re finding, and Peggy absolutely is right, is that the elected officials are rarely the champions. Even in states where you have democratic governors and democratic legislatures, the champions are almost always advocates and experts who choose to be experts. And frankly, it’s just the way things have been successful. We have 135 loan applications into loan programs office, and all of the ones that involve states and cities were a champion who frankly just browbeat those cities and states into doing a project over two years. And I think that’s how it’s going to happen. I want to think otherwise, but I think that’s how it’s going to happen. And so just to put in perspective for you, we have 19,500 cities and towns in the United States. That’s it. We have hundreds of thousands of advocates in the environmental community and the climate justice community. And so I think we need to start equipping those people with a lot of the information around all the new programs that are available and all this work. And unfortunately, while I wish and I hope that the city councils and mayors and others would be the champions, I just haven’t seen it.
Mark Hertsgaard: That’s Jigar Shah. He, of course, is with the US Department of Energy. I’m going to start to channel now the questions that are coming in through the chat, but there’s a big theme that is through many of these questions that I hope all three of you can address. And I’ll just say before that, again to my fellow journalists, I just heard two really good story ideas there. If the administration is indeed going to be sending officials out around the country to talk about this, there’s your newspeg. But if it were I who are doing that story, I’d find those advocates who are browbeating the local officials and profile them. And that can take you through exactly how the process is happening and give you an entryway into how many jobs are being created, what kinds of factors are being built, et cetera. And for my colleagues on the TV side, these are very visually friendly stories as well.
Jigar Shah: Mark, I’ll give you one more example.
Mark Hertsgaard: Please.
Jigar Shah: EPA has this grant program for school buses. I would say almost none of those grant programs were championed by the school superintendent. Almost all of them were parents who said, “I don’t understand why my kids should have to breathe in toxic fumes every time they go to school.” I mean, for a long time EPA has seen that the air quality inside a bus is often worse than the air quality outside of a bus. And so it’s parents that are pushing these school superintendents to do this. I don’t judge as much as I want to make sure that change occurs. And I think that the passion is coming from these parents, not necessarily from the school districts.
Mark Hertsgaard: I defy any assignment editor to turn down that story. School buses, parents, not not going to happen. But here’s the question that we’re hearing from a number of our colleagues here, and I’d like to ask first, Lori, and then both Peg and Jigar to chime in. Basically reporters get it that this is a good story locally, but where do they start? How do they dig in? And the database that you kindly put into the chat here, Lori, is a beginning. But can all three of you, maybe, say a little bit more on how to start on this, how do they find these individuals who are browbeating the local municipalities and government people? How do they find them? Do they just look on these databases or what? Lori, can you start us off please?
Lori Lodes: Yeah. And I’ll start with on the spreadsheet or the dataset and sort of what it shows you, ’cause I know there was a couple of questions. So these are all of the public announcements that have been made since the Inflation Reduction Act passed from the private sector. I think that’s an important distinction different than what Jigar was showing, which is what his office and DOE, what funds they are moving out. And this is what companies are doing because of the security, because of the certainty they have from the Inflation Reduction Act, from the bipartisan infrastructure law, whether it’s CHIPs or ARPA even. Because of those investments that have been made by the federal government, it is provided the security that these companies can actually move forward. I want to do a couple of examples, if I can pull it up really quick, because I think it’s an important piece of this story.
Oh, it wasn’t that. What we have seen is multiple companies who had plans, whether it was a solar array or whatever it was, had pulled the plug on it because there was too much. They couldn’t actually secure the funding or for whatever reason, they just stopped. And then the Inflation Reduction Act passed and a couple of months later they were like, we’re back. We’ve been able, we now can move forward with this project. And so I think it’s just sort of opened up the floodgates of what’s actually possible. And so I do think the data set sort of calls out these companies. And these companies, by and large have websites. Many of them I will say, there’s some of the big guys on there who will have public affairs offices, but many of these companies, many of the innovations that we’re talking about are very small. They don’t necessarily have the communications expert or the public affairs person for you to go to. But, they do have the founder who will be willing and ready to talk about the amazing breakthrough technology that they’re working on. So I think it really is almost a choose your own adventure. And that’s really on the business side. And I think Peggy should talk more about the local community and how we connect with those folks.
Peggy Shepard: Yeah, there’s so many ways to find the environmental justice organizations that are doing this work. There are networks like the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum, the Climate Justice Alliance. There are foundations that fund environmental justice. There are some philanthropists who come together in a Justice40 Accelerator, and so they would have lists of groups that they are supporting and who are active. And of course, once you talk to one of these groups, you’ll find a whole list of their colleagues and groups doing this kind of work.
Jigar Shah: Mark, if you don’t mind me adding a little bit here.
Mark Hertsgaard: Please.
Jigar Shah: I mean, we certainly talked to hundreds of companies before the IRA passed, and I think to Lori’s point, many of them were close. The ones that have already been announced that have already created 100,000 jobs since IRA passed, were already pretty close. They were three years into their development work, et cetera. And the $35 per kilowatt-hour credit for battery manufacturing is what put them over the edge and got them to move forward. The Solar Energy Manufacturing Act is what got them to move forward with expanding their solar manufacturing here in the United States. I mean inverter manufacturing for solar as well, Alan Abella like and his company added two more locations. Nextracker added two more locations. I think when you think about all of these projects, they really were directly tied to the IRA and you see it because almost all of the announcements happened after the IRA passed because they needed that extra piece to make the financial models work. I think that’s quite critical.
And the other thing I would say is that I don’t think that people are at risk of missing out on these dollars. I mean, clearly there are grant dollars and people have to be ready to apply to those grant dollars. But honestly, I really do think that people need to get together and have these conversations. We hosted a round table in Rochester, which was really amazing and found a lot of local nonprofits that were recycling lithium ion batteries. Less than 10% of all lithium ion batteries in the United States get recycled. Those are all critical minerals that we’re just putting in a landfills. And so their local nonprofits are doing that, we’re able to get a lot of the folks to work together to get these things done. I think people have to invest in having these conversations and then each community can choose which part of the energy transition they want to be a part of.
Mark Hertsgaard: I’m going to take a couple questions now. Some of them are showing up here in the chat, others not. But one quick reminder to all my colleagues on the journalism side, which is that the latest data that comes out from the Yale Program on Climate Communication, which of course has been tracking American public opinion about climate change for over a decade, most Americans do not even know what the Inflation Reduction Act is. Let that sink in. We all think that everybody knows about this, right? Because we’re on the beat and we’ve been covering it. Peggy, I remember you saying to me once when I was interviewing you, you walk out there on 125th Street and ask those people what they know about global warming and it’s not very much. That’s our job as journalists. It’s our job to explain these issues to the public so that they can be empowered. We can’t tell people what to do and we shouldn’t tell people how to vote, but we can sure as hell inform them so that when they do act and they do vote that they are acting on the best possible information. So that’s another reason why we held this press briefing today.
So here’s a question I think is a real practical one and forgive me, I can’t tell which reporter asked it, so I’m just going to repeat it. Which is, as a reporter when you’re looking into a project, how can you tell whether it’s happening because of the IRA? In other words, maybe this is something that would be happening otherwise. So we want to make sure that our reporting is accurate. How do you know?
Lori Lodes: Well, I think as Jigar sort of touched on it as well, many of the development, starting a new business or expansion does not happen overnight. If you’re a solar array, you bought the property, the land probably years ago, and you have to go through a lot of different steps before you get to securing the funding to actually build the array, for instance. But many of the companies, as I mentioned, they have press releases where they will credit because of the IRA, we’ve been able to take this final step, X, Y, and Z. So I think it’s really dependent on the company connecting it directly to the IRA, or the Inflation Reduction Act, and so we’ve tried to be clear when that’s the case. Many of the announcements, though, they were in the works beforehand and they did get finalized after. And so what the data set really shows is just this quick ascent that we’re going through with companies announcing project after project after project. That has been helped out because the federal government is making this big investment in clean energy.
Mark Hertsgaard: Let me ask you, here’s another very specific question. What are the questions that we, as reporters should be asking, especially at the local and state level, recognizing this is federal money, but what are the questions that we should be asking to officials in order to get solid answers here? Peggy, why don’t you start and then Jigar.
Peggy Shepard: Yeah. I think we should be asking the governors, who is the person in state government who’s responsible for coordinating some of these monies? Who are those people and what is their connection to the frontline communities where 40% of these funds should be going? I think that’s a very key question. When we look at controllers, state and city controllers who are really focused on contracts and monies, how are they thinking about these issues? So I really think that there are key questions of not only state level officials, but municipal officials. And then thinking about the large housing organizations, there’s a lot of money here for decarbonization, for electrification, for weatherization. And what do those larger housing groups know about these monies? How are they planning to access this opportunity?
Mark Hertsgaard: Jigar, can you chime in please?
Jigar Shah: Yeah, there’s a couple of threads that I would suggest to you. I mean, we have 160 plus locations that have applied to Loan Programs Office within 135 applications, so we see all the details of every single project in those applications. I can tell you that except for I think eight projects, none of them have federal permitting issues, they’re state and local permitting issues. And we all talk about federal permitting issues, but it’s actually the state and local permitting issues that are really in the way of getting a lot of these things done. And I feel like there’s a real dearth of stories in that area about why. And frankly, a lot of it’s because people are under resourced, as Peggy suggested, and some of it’s other reasons, which I think are important.
The other thing I’d say is that the programs that are provided by the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law really work together to help with energy burden. It is really expensive to be poor even today. 87% of all appliance purchases are done under duress, something breaks and they have to replace it right then, and they want to save $85 worth of groceries that are sitting in the refrigerator, they don’t want them to go bad. There are very few options that people have at that moment to get financing and so they often pay 30% interest. We have the ability to fix that right now, not just through the grant programs but also through the loan programs that we have in virtual power plants and some of the other things that we’re doing. But there has to be a level of intentionality around solving energy burden. It’s complicated, it’s hard. You have to work through the Public Service Commission, you have to work with the local utilities, you have to work with the appliance resellers, all of whom have programs here at Best Buy and Home Depot and Lowe’s, et cetera. But I think it’s a level of coordination that is needed that the federal government can’t do per se. We can educate, we can provide technical assistance, but it’s really more of a local issue where they have to intervene to weave these programs together into something that really solves energy burden.
Peggy Shepard: But we also have to understand that we’ve already got over 15 million households who are already energy insecure. And so with this energy transition, will it really be a just transition and will we be able to subsidize the escalating energy costs that may happen in the short term for these families? And we also have to understand that the IRA, even though it will fund a lot of important energy projects, will also fund some projects that are not community friendly. When we think about carbon capture utilization and storage that the Department of Energy is spending billions of dollars for, many of those, I think they’re 50 permits pending in the Cancer Alley, Louisiana area, which is already overburdened. And now those oil and gas facilities will have a new revenue source with this carbon capture opportunity that will keep them in business. And these are experimental, these have not been proven technologies, and they’re happening in the frontline communities that we’re trying to upgrade and trying to improve and enhance.
Mark Hertsgaard: Jigar, could you speak to that briefly, please, and the role of carbon capture and storage, which of course is a very, very controversial technology?
Jigar Shah: Well, we should start with the first point Peggy made, which is that we do have 15 million households that are energy insecure. And the programs that we’ve passed can solve that problem. So I want to make sure that people recognize that we actually have the resources allocated to help solve that problem. It requires coordination between the electric utilities, the public service commissions, the mayors, and others. Because as you guys all suggested, most people don’t know those programs exist. So we have to make sure people know that they can opt in to these programs, otherwise they won’t take advantage of them. So I think we want to make sure that that that’s clear.
On the carbon sequestration piece, I guess what I would say is that it’s a lot less profitable than people think it is. There’s about a hundred million tons that are profitable, mainly from ethanol plants, frankly. And so I think most of this is in the Midwest, that are happening. I think that from an experimental technology standpoint, DOE clearly is supposed to do demonstrations and things like that. So whether it’s in nuclear power, or whether it’s in carbon sequestration of storage, or whether it’s in hydrogen, we’re not talking about full roll outs of technologies. We’re talking about first roll outs. And the last thing I’d say is that we take the local consultation very seriously. And that’s why I think you see that classics permits are being done very judiciously, like in close coordination with communities. And so while I understand the fear, I do think that it’s important for the Department of Energy to be working on technology and the commercialization of technology, and not to suggest that the pursuit of science is something that we should stop doing.
Mark Hertsgaard: A couple more questions here. Thank you, Jigar. And a reminder, as someone put into the chat of another potential newspeg for your stories on this, apparently Al Gore and his climate reality project are doing a series of nationwide gatherings to try and train people about this. That too, provides you a newspeg.
And just remember, again, this issue that most Americans don’t know about this, and especially those 15 million energy insecure people that Peggy Shepherd was talking about, they’re the ones who most need to be reached on this. And that’s our job. That’s our job as journalists. I like to say that we’re paid, sometimes, by our companies, but we work for the public. We work for the public. And this is a big part of that, is just to alert the public that these opportunities are available. Couple questions here, I guess a couple of big blue sky questions, is what are the kinds of projects that you’re not seeing being requested or pursued under IRA that you wish were being pursued? Maybe, Lori, you start?
Lori Lodes: I think Jigar should take that one. Sorry to put you on the spot, but you’re much more equipped.
Jigar Shah: You’re saying which provisions of the IRA are there but not being fully taken advantage of?
Mark Hertsgaard: That’s one way to answer it, sure. Yeah.
Jigar Shah: I think in general, on the distributed energy side in particular, there is an extraordinary amount of support, for whether it’s community solar projects or rooftop solar. Just to put it in perspective, we have 4% of rooftops in the United States with solar on them. Australia is at 30%. So we have a long ways to go.
And what you find is once you put solar on a rooftop, that household becomes very energy informed. They naturally do a lot more energy efficiency. They naturally move to electrify everything. They usually plan their next vehicle to be an electric vehicle, because solar power is actually cheaper than the power they’re getting from the grid. And so now they’re able to cut their fuel bill by over 60%. And so you’re in this situation where I think that for whatever reason, we’ve gotten really comfortable with talking about utility scale solar, utility scale wind, interconnection issues. All of those things are very important, and we should be talking about them. But what doesn’t have any challenges right now is putting solar on rooftops. Google sunroof has already mapped out all of the homes that have perfect roofs. You can actually look up your address online. And so it’s one of those things where I think that we’re talking about these really big infrastructure projects, but a lot of this small stuff really can add up to really big investments in local community. And it’s where a lot of local small businesses are playing as well. So the vast majority of solar installers are local small businesses that are hiring from the local town and actually give back. They’re the ones that are sponsoring local T-ball teams, and basketball teams, and all those things. And so I think it’s important for folks to recognize that when they choose to deploy these sort of local solutions, you are actually having a huge impact.
Lori Lodes: I want to jump in. I want do want to say one thing, that a lot of these provisions are not yet out there and available for folks to take advantage of. Okay? And so we will see soon, I think very soon, you will see cities start to be able to access funding to refurb, or to refurb different. We want to take 5,000 houses and transition them to electric. And we are going to see rebates for folks to be able to afford or not have to pay for an appliance. Going through everything that Jigar talked about, about when people really make those decisions to buy a new appliance, those haven’t taken effect yet either, but they will. And I think telling those stories, even telling the story that Jigar just said, one of the things that’s been interesting for us is we do a lot of focus groups. And one of the things that we’ve started to see is that in every focus group, somebody, either themselves, or their brother, or someone they know has installed solar panels on their house. And they’re not only saving money, they’re getting money back from their utility. And everybody in the room is just like, “Wait, what?” And so there is a basic level of education that I think is desperately needed. And it starts with really the connections and the real people’s stories about what they’re seeing and what they’re experiencing.
Mark Hertsgaard: I’m going to close in a moment, because we’re getting to the top of the hour, by asking all of you a big picture question about what keeps you, what would a successful IRA look look like? A successful rollout, I should say, of the IRA look like? But one question first for Jigar that’s come up a couple of times here in the chat, is what about a communication strategy? What is the Administration doing to overcome the fact that most Americans do not know about the IRA? One question, or one colleague says, “Why don’t you fund some journalists to do this?” I don’t suppose that’s part of your brief, but tell us a little bit about how the administration is trying to sell the IRA to the public, and to the media, frankly.
Jigar Shah: Well, look, I think that what we’re doing at the Loan Programs Office is elevating entrepreneurs and innovators who want to do these projects, including distributed projects like virtual power plants and others. And we’re going into the community and talking to the community about exactly what folks are doing in their community. So you saw that rolled out in Rochester, we’re doing it across the country now. So I think there’s a lot that we can do there. On the journalists, I’ve been asked this question for many years. And I’ve said to people that the number one thing we can do is to fund local journalism. I don’t know that the Department of Energy should be doing that. I think you should be holding us accountable. But I do think that philanthropy should be funding local journalism. We have lost a lot of the local newspapers, a lot of the local journalists that we used to have. And those folks are really important to keeping people informed and to hold them accountable. So I do think philanthropy should step in and provide a lot of that. Some have. And so I think that’s really valuable.
But I do think, to your broader question on the IRA, people have to think bigger. Right? We somehow lost the ability to think big on infrastructure. I think we think big on software, on social media, and all sorts of other things. But in terms of thinking big on infrastructure, we should be thinking big. People should have bike lanes. People should be able to live without a car, and use public transit, and use micro mobility. There are lots of solutions that we should be demanding, and some of which, many of which have been tested and proven in countries around the world. And so we should get access to that here. And I think that we need to spark a bigger conversation. And the IRA is the perfect mechanism by which to do it because we now have 10 years of certainty. The IRA provides 10 years of certainty around the ability to roll this stuff out at $23 trillion scale. And so now I think people in their local communities have to demand better, and demand what they want in their community, because each community wants something a little bit different. And so we need to go through the stakeholder engagement process to make sure that we’re bringing in all of these voices and figuring out exactly what people want to do.
Mark Hertsgaard: I’m going to quick turn to Lori and Peggy, but just on the question of support for journalism, the Columbia Journalism Review has a fascinating, important interview just yesterday or the day before with a scholar who talks about, sure, philanthropy is great to support us, but really what we should be doing is putting tax money towards local journalism. That’s the only solution that can really scale. And we do it with public education, we do it with all kinds of public goods. We do it with public parks. Journalism is a public good. It is part of our democracy. So really quickly now, in 30 seconds each, Peggy and Lori, what would you see as a success of the rollout of the IRA? Why don’t you go first, Peggy, and then Lori?
Peggy Shepard: Well, I think Jigar got it right. We’ve got to have strong stakeholder engagement so that states and municipalities understand those forgotten projects, those big thinking, those big ideas the communities have not had the opportunity to even put forward. And so really thinking about the infrastructure, the climate infrastructure, the energy infrastructure in frontline communities that’s so badly needed. If those holes or those gaps can be filled, then I would say the IRA has been successful. And if more groups, the advocacy groups that are really making the difference, in terms of advocating for these monies to go to those communities, if those groups are better resourced and able to be strong advocates in those states and municipalities, then I think IRA would’ve been successful.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. And Lori, you’re last but not least.
Lori Lodes: Thank you, Mark. And thanks, everyone. I think I helped pass the Affordable Care Act, and then helped implement it. And I have to say, I have learned a lot of lessons about what doesn’t work, but also what works. And part of what we did not get right in the passage of healthcare was really telling the story about what it was going to mean to people’s lives. This should not be a partisan issue at all. Right? These are real improvements that are going to be made possible in local communities. It’s going to mean more community funding, more T-Ball teams will have additional donations to have new uniforms. These are going to have a real local benefit, but we have to tell that story. We have to explain how it’s going to impact people’s lives. And I think that is how we’re going to know if it’s a success. If it is more like the Defense Authorization Act, where every community has a piece of it, they understand what it does, and if people understand how it’s going to benefit their lives and people like them and their communities. And so that’s the big series that we’re focused on, is how do we translate this to folks so they understand how the clean energy investments, how the climate action is really going to help their lives?
Mark Hertsgaard: And that, of course, is exactly why we had this press briefing today, because we in the media have the biggest voice to talk to people all across the country. This is an audience friendly story, folks. There’s a lot of news pegs to it. There’s a lot of different themes. We’ve heard all about it today. You can, of course, come to our website for all this background information. And I’ll just close by giving my heartfelt thanks for this wonderful presentation from all three of our panelists, Jigar Shah of the United States Department of Energy, Lori Lodes of Climate Power, and Peggy Shepard of We Act in Harlem. And on behalf of my colleagues at Covering Climate Now, I’ll close by saying I’m Mark Hertsgaard, and we wish you all a very pleasant day.