2020 candidates warm up to Green Banks: a look at their latest climate plans

This post originally appeared on the site of CGC’s campaign for a federal Green Bank.

Ahead of CNN’s series of climate change town halls, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have been busy updating their climate change plans and proposals. The plans are wide-ranging, touching on labor, agriculture, environmental justice, research and development, national security, and more.

They have good reason for taking this expansive focus, as climate change is a challenge that touches every element of our economy and our future. However, one facet is particularly urgent: the clean energy transition.

The power sector has a limited time to fully transition from fossil to clean. Market forces are already having an effect, but they’ll need a boost if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. A wave of investment must be directed towards financing new renewable generation and accelerating the retirement of fossil-fueled generation.

The 2020 Democrats have shown awareness of this urgency, and are increasingly gravitating towards the Green Bank model. Green Banks exist to address this problem, maximizing the greenhouse gas reduction impact of each public dollar by targeting projects on the edge of commercial viability and drawing in private investment. A recent CGC poll also found widespread public support for the idea of a National Climate Bank.

Overall, five of the top ten candidates either explicitly or indirectly support the expansion of the Green Bank model at a national scale. A more detailed look at each of their proposals follows here, focused specifically on how they would make use of this critical policy tool to mobilize investment.

Kamala Harris

Clean Energy Timeline: Sets a target to meet 100 percent of electricity demand with carbon-neutral power by 2030.

Clean Energy Investment: $10 trillion in combined public and private investment over the next 10 years.

Support for Green Banks: Yes, directly.Supports the creation of an independent nonprofit National Climate Bank, as proposed in the National Climate Bank Act introduced by Senator Ed Markey.

Quote: “To help communities fund clean energy projects, Kamala will mobilize private investment through mechanisms like a green bank as outlined in Senator Markey’s National Climate Bank Act. These types of finance strategies can reduce emissions and build climate resilience in communities across the nation by accelerating deployment and adoption of clean energy technologies like community solar, especially for low-income and middle class communities.”

Elizabeth Warren

Clean Energy Timeline: By 2035, sets a target of 100% renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation, with an interim target of 100% carbon-neutral power by 2030.

Clean Energy Investment: Federal investment of $3 trillion which will leverage additional trillions in private investment.

Support for Green Banks: Yes, indirectly. Takes up the policy mantle of Gov. Jay Inslee (whose plan included a National Climate Bank) and mentions how public investment could leverage additional private investment. Discusses expansion of federal financing programs like the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program. Does not mention a standalone National Climate Bank, although such an institution would not be inconsistent with these goals and principles.

Quote: “I’ll create incentives for private investment in energy efficiency and electrification in residential and commercial buildings, including through tax credits, direct spending, and regulatory tools. We’ll expand refundable credits for installing energy efficiency upgrades, and extend existing tax credits for wind and solar power. And we’ll make it easier for institutional capital to invest in portfolio-scale green construction and retrofits, scaling up clean energy in large commercial and residential projects.”

Pete Buttigieg

Clean Energy Timeline: Zero emissions from electricity generation by 2035.

Clean Energy Investment: Campaign estimated to Vox that the government could directly invest $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion.

Support for Green Banks: Yes, directly. Calls for the creation of an American Clean Energy Bank, capitalized with $250 billion, which would invest in clean energy project along the model of existing state and local Green Banks.

Quote: “Building on the success of green banks in states, the​​ American Clean Energy Bank will have $250 billion of initial capitalization. It will provide loans, grants, credit enhancements, and loan guarantees to finance clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, waste and water, and resilient infrastructure projects that create good local jobs, through which the bank can leverage up to six times more private-sector capital.”

Beto O’Rourke

Clean Energy Timeline: No specific timeline for the power sector. Economy-wide target is net zero emissions by 2050 and halfway there by 2030.

Clean Energy Investment: 10-year mobilization of $5 trillion directly leveraged by a fully paid-for $1.5 trillion investment

Support for Green Banks: Yes, indirectly. Calls for the creation of a new dedicated finance authority to spur investment in green infrastructure.

Quote: “As President, Beto will spur investment in infrastructure necessary to cut pollution across all sectors [including] [m]ore than $3 trillion through proven existing financing institutions, like the Rural Utility Service, and a new dedicated finance authority, which will have on its board not only the brightest minds in finance but also members of the unions that would help build this infrastructure.”

Julian Castro

Clean Energy Timeline: All electrical power to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and be entirely clean, renewable, and zero-emission by 2035.

Clean Energy Investment: $10 trillion in federal, state, local, and private investments over the next decade.

Support for Green Banks: Yes, directly. Supports the creation of a new Green Infrastructure Fund, which would mobilize additional private investment into clean energy and infrastructure.

Quote: “Establish a $200 billion Green Infrastructure Fund. Investing in green infrastructure is critical to meeting climate goals and building resilient communities. The fund would support investments into climate resilience infrastructure through grants and loans that fund projects with strong union protections in construction, maintenance, and operation. This fund would aim to leverage an additional $600 billion in state, local, and private investments.”

Bernie Sanders

Clean Energy Timeline: 100% clean energy by no later than 2030.

Clean Energy Investment: About $2.4 trillion directly to clean energy, energy storage, and smart grids, plus $3.1 trillion to building energy efficiency and electrification. Headlined as a $16.3 trillion plan.

Support for Green Banks: Little mention of mobilizing private investment; new power generation built under the plan would be fully publicly owned.

Quote: “The renewable energy generated by the Green New Deal will be publicly owned, managed by the Federal Power Marketing Administrations, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority and sold to distribution utilities with a preference for public power districts, municipally- and cooperatively-owned utilities with democratic, public ownership, and other existing utilities that demonstrate a commitment to the public interest.”

Joe Biden

Clean Energy Timeline: No power-specific target. Economy-wide, net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

Clean Energy Investment: Federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, leveraging additional private sector and state and local investments to total to more than $5 trillion.

Support for Green Banks: Unclear. Broadly discusses the idea of leveraging private sector investments, and supports measures like a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities, which could mobilize investment into specific communities, although this is only a subset of what a Green Bank could do.

Quote: “To support coal and power plant workers and their communities, President Biden will make an unprecedented investment building upon the vision put forward in the Obama-Biden Administration’s Power+ Plan. And, he’ll establish a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities, as the Obama-Biden Administration did for Detroit when the auto industry was in turmoil. For example, the Task Force will help these communities access federal investments and leverage private sector investments to help create high-paying union jobs based upon the unique assets of each community.”

Cory Booker

Clean Energy Timeline: No power-specific target. Economy-wide, carbon-neutral by 2045.

Clean Energy Investment: Directly invest over $3 trillion dollars by 2030

Support for Green Banks: Little mention of new institutions that could specifically mobilize both public and private investment into clean energy projects. Clean energy investment is mostly described as direct federal investment via purchasing, grants, and tax credits.

Quote: “If we are serious about getting to net-zero emissions, we need to supercharge our investment in the kind of clean energy technology and infrastructure — wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and more —that will power our green economy. Cory’s plan will invest an additional $1.5 trillion by 2030 in clean energy, energy storage, and electric vehicles, spurring a huge market for these products and incentivizing American businesses to compete to create the highest quality and lowest cost options.”

Andrew Yang

Clean Energy Timeline: 100% zero-emission electricity by 2035.

Clean Energy Investment: $4.9 trillion over 20 years.

Support for Green Banks: $200 billion is allocated towards grid modernization, but it is unclear exactly how it would be used.

Quote: “In order to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2035, we need to create an economic drive for utilities to invest in updating their infrastructure while motivating innovation. We can do this with a “Race to the Top” type competition where utilities compete to enact certain reforms and the winners receive federal monies to reduce the capital costs of their investment.”

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