By Connor Dacey, GSA Science Policy Fellow
In December 2020, the 116th Congress successfully passed a 5000+ page omnibus package that included a number of bills that were subsequently signed into law. One of these bills was the Energy Act of 2020. The final Energy Act was a compilation of “37 Senate bills, including 29 that were bipartisan, four Republican bills, and four Democratic bills.” It also included text from the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act (H.R. 4447), which passed the House of Representatives in September 2020. It was the first “major modernization of our nation’s energy policy in 13 years1.” Sponsored by Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV), the new law addressed major environmental and energy priorities that align with GSA position statements on water resources, renewable energy, climate change and decarbonization, and critical minerals and resources. Though the bill is expansive and covers additional energy topics, this blog will specifically focus on these four thematic areas.
Water Resources: One of the priorities of the Energy Act of 2020 was to increase interagency research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) as it relates to energy and water sustainability. The bill established a RD&D committee to collaborate on “energy-water nexus activities” that aim to minimize freshwater consumption, increase water-use efficiency, and utilize nontraditional water sources. It also established the Smart Energy and Water Efficiency Pilot Program which “provides grants to water authorities that provide water, wastewater, or water reuse services for demonstrating advanced and innovative technology-based solutions.” The overall goals of this program include helping communities conserve water, save energy, and reduce costs, as well as to provide real-time data on energy and water and improve energy-water conservation through internet-enabled technologies. In total, the bill authorized $15 million for the program.
Renewable Energy: A number of sections in the Energy Act of 2020 focused on renewable energy sources, particularly marine, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar energy sources.
The bill required additional RD&D to support marine and hydropower energy sources to improve the environmental impacts of water power technologies (i.e. reduce harmful impacts to aquatic wildlife), to provide additional grid reliability and resilience, and to promote water power technologies to improve economic growth and enhance workforce development. It also prioritized activities designed to develop technology for non-powered dams, constructed waterways, and pumped storage. In total, the bill authorized $186.6 million annually from 2021-2025 for these activities. The bill expanded the definition of renewable energy to include geothermal energy for “programs authorized through the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to recognize power produced by geothermal resources as renewable energy rather than energy efficiency”. It also established
further RD&D programs to locate geothermal energy sources and develop technologies capable of withstanding these geothermal environments to monitor and produce geothermal energy. It expanded the Frontier Observations for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) program to identify possible environmental impacts (i.e. induced seismicity), and called for the establishment of 3 FORGE field sites to develop, test, and enhance techniques and tools for geothermal energy. Finally, it promoted education and outreach activities designed to disseminate information on geothermal energy technologies. A total of $305 million was authorized to carry out these activities from 2021-2025.
The bill expanded RD&D as it relates to wind energy. It required the establishment of a program to optimize the design and adaptability of wind energy technologies to the broadest practical range of geographic, atmospheric, offshore, and other site conditions. It aimed to optimize the efficiency of wind turbines, while simultaneously decreasing the risks to wildlife and the environment. It also developed a wind technician training program. In total, the bill authorized $125 million annually from 2021-2015 to complete these tasks.
Finally, the bill expanded on RD&D for solar energy. It aimed to optimize the design and adaptability of solar energy systems and technologies, supported the integration of these technologies with the electric gird, and improved upon the conversion of solar energy to other useful forms of energy. In total, $300 million was authorized annually to complete these activities from 2021-2025.
The bill also addressed the need for additional energy storage capacity as these renewable energy sources become more popular and accessible.
Climate Change and Decarbonization: Large sections of the Energy Act of 2020 focused on addressing climate change, specifically on carbon management. The bill called for the establishment of a carbon capture technology program that improves the efficiency, effectiveness, performance, and costs of manufacturing and industrial facilities. Its goals included lowering greenhouse emissions for all fossil fuel production, developing net-negative carbon dioxide emission technologies, and reducing the environmental impacts of coal and natural gas. The bill also called for RD&D as it relates to carbon storage, utilization, and removal, including direct air capture. It aimed to develop tools to predict carbon dioxide containment, assess novel uses of carbon, and remove carbon from the atmosphere using direct air capture and storage technologies. A carbon dioxide removal task force will be assembled in an effort to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In total, over $1 billion was authorized to accomplish all these tasks through 2025.
Critical Minerals and Resources: Sections of the Energy Act focused on critical minerals and resources. The bill required the development of a RD&D program to develop technologies that aid in the extraction of critical minerals and rare earth elements from coal in ways that reduce the potential for negative public health impacts. $127 million was authorized to complete these tasks. There were also requirements to update the list of critical minerals every three years and have the USGS conduct an assessment of critical minerals that will then be made publicly available.
Additional topics covered in the Energy Act of 2020 that are not directly discussed here include nuclear energy, energy efficiency, and grid modernization. GSA members are encouraged to view the bill in its entirety for information relating to these subject areas.