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Clean tech companies could see a boom under President-elect Joe Biden, but just how much hinges on Tuesday's Senate election in Georgia.
A large part of Biden's platform is devoted to a plan to "clean energy," with promises to invest $400 billion over 10 years into innovation. If the Senate remains in Republican hands, his plan is unlikely to get as much traction, so environmentalists are looking at Tuesday's Senate races in Georgia as their best hope. A Democrat sweep could mean a big win for California, home to dozens of green energy companies and a national leader in the environmental legislation.
"Unless the Senate changes, I'm not sure that the big spending is going to happen," said Shon Hiatt, a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business.
With a Republican Senate
If the Senate remains a Republican majority, it will likely approve a few tax credits for renewable energy, but the $400 billion Biden wants to invest in clean energy and tech would likely remain unspent, Hiatt said.
"It's not going to be as big as he says it's going to be," said Hiatt. "But regulatory-wise, he will push through the EPA for more stringent air quality measures and that will have a positive impact on renewable energy push here."
California's burgeoning green tech industry had been on the outs under the Trump Administration, which threatened to rescind a signature environmental policy — a tailpipe emissions waiver that allows the state to enforce tougher standards than the federal government. Under a Biden administration, that waiver will most definitely remain in place — making investment into clean tech less risky. And it would help solidify the state's push for greener regulations.
Even without a Senate majority, the Biden administration will be able to roll back many of the previous administration's efforts to undermine environmental protections, and it could implement new policies. A green shift in focus could help push state and local governments that have been reluctant to embrace green technology to do so.
"Policy on the state level is influenced by federal strategy and focus," said Enervee CEO Matthias Kurwig. The Culver City-based company provides a platform for utilities, manufacturers, retailers and governments to help them make energy-efficient choices when buying products. "So we do expect already-committed states to do more in terms of decarbonization and reluctant states will have stronger incentives to make a move in the right direction."
Enervee currently works between companies and utilities such as the LADWP and SoCalGas in Southern California.
El Segundo-based company EV Connect supplies charging station software to the LADWP, several L.A. Caltrans stations, L.A. County and several other local and national organizations. The coming years should help it, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an order to phase out fossil-fuel-reliant cars by 2035.
Its chief executive officer Jordan Ramer, said that under the Trump administration, electric vehicle technologies had not received much federal funding. But Biden's plan includes installing 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations nationwide by the end of 2030 and migrating the federal fleet to electric vehicles.
"Those two items are extremely impactful to our business in helping to support the federal government in meeting those goals," said Ramer. "500,000 public charging outlets would be just an order of magnitude — larger than what we have done over the last ten years."
These charging stations would be available to anyone with an electric car, which could speed up adoption of electric vehicles.
With a Democratic Senate
Should Georgians elect two Democratic senators, the Senate will be under Democratic control, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would have the power to make any tie-breaking decisions.
"If Democrats win," USC Professor Hiatt said, "Biden could absolutely start changing how the budget is going to go, and what grants will go to renewable energy, and the taxes that could be put on and taken away from companies."
That could be a windfall for SoCal's clean tech companies, and enable California to push for more funding, not just legislation enabling clean tech innovation, he added. It would also likely mean that Biden's $2 trillion climate plan would get more traction.
"It's a huge and ambitious plan," said Patrick Maloney, chief executive officer of Santa Monica-based Inspire Clean Energy. "And we do see a lot of the benefit of that investment, making its way into the accelerated growth and new wind or solar facilities, into the grid."
Inspire is a clean energy company that operates as a subscription service. Enrolled homes pay Inspire a flat monthly fee, rather than their utility bill. Inspire then matches each home's energy usage with clean energy by purchasing wind renewable energy certificates (RECs) from wind farms. The hope is that by giving customers the ability to choose where their energy is coming from, consumers can help quicken the transition to clean energy.
Maloney said that missing from Biden's plan, which focuses on getting federal funding to larger national projects, is this focus on customer choice.
"In all those policies, the one thing that's noticeably absent is the consumer," said Maloney. "We really need to see policy leadership moving towards fully competitive markets that empower consumers to take their good intentions and transform them into action."
EV Connect, Enervee and Inspire all agree that Biden's win was a good thing for clean tech. Even if they don't receive funding, they will receive support in policies and initiatives.
"A lot of these initiatives are going to actually move forward. And I think a lot of investors are putting money right now into renewable energy companies, because they see the trajectory, and it will have more of a positive trajectory toward renewable energy," said Hiatt. "But again, a lot of this depends on what happens in the January 5th runoff. If Democrats win ... President Joe Biden could absolutely start changing how the budget is going to go, and what grants will go to renewable energy, and the taxes that could be put on and taken away from companies."