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A Green New Deal: The Who, What, When, & How

Earlier this year, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) released a nonbinding resolution for a Green New Deal. The 14-page document outlines a sweeping set of goals related to greenhouse gas emissions, infrastructure investments, and labor markets--largely through a lens of justice and equity.

The ambitious plan has been met with tremendous response. Advocates have called a Green New Deal a “viable and necessary option” and “what realistic environmental policy looks like,” while opponents have curiously compared it to a gun-toting, velociraptor-riding Ronald Reagan fighting off communism in the 20th century. The concept of a Green New Deal has quickly entered the national discourse as a key issue leading up to the 2020 presidential election.

But despite all the buzz, most of the details and logistical hurdles have yet to be worked out or analyzed. Synapse has been working on issues of decarbonization, emissions reductions, and employment impacts for decades. We are well-equipped to tackle the big who, what, when, and how questions, and have recently updated the Synapse Multi-Sector Decarbonization Toolkit to help approach questions raised by the Green New Deal. Below we’ve highlighted key questions that we look forward to exploring in the coming months.

Energy

The Green New Deal contains large goals for the country’s power demand, including “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” and “building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and 'smart” power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity.

Several questions related to these goals include:

  • What resource mixes will be most effective in meeting these goals?
  • How will the Green New Deal ensure that vulnerable populations will not be negatively impacted economically during this energy transition?
  • What impact will this transition have on employment?

Synapse has extensive experience rigorously modeling clean energy futures, including 100 percent renewable energy goals in Pennsylvania and Los Angeles. We take seriously the importance of low-cost energy for all customers and particularly low-income customers. As an example, we developed a handbook for developing fair and low-cost energy efficiency programs. As for jobs, we regularly use IMPLAN by IMPLAN Group to estimate the economic and employment impacts of decisions within the energy sector.

Transportation

Another goal of the Resolution is “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible.” This will include investments in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, public transportation, and high-speed rail.

This raises the following questions:

  • What pathways are available to reach the required levels of zero-emission vehicles and charging infrastructure?
  • How can rate design be leveraged to encourage smart EV charging that helps, rather than hinders, electricity load management? How should rates be structured to maximize the equitable distribution of rates?
  • What impact will these goals have on employment?

Our EV-REDI tool was designed to answer many of these questions. Additionally, we have extensive experience researching pathways to electrification (including transportation electrification), developing frameworks for smart EV rate design, and analyzing the job impacts of clean vehicle trajectories.

Buildings

The Resolution also discusses the decarbonization of buildings. It states as a goal: “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.

To achieve this goal, one must examine:

  • What are the trade-offs between cost-effective use of existing infrastructure and speed of action in upgrading and electrifying buildings?
  • What policies and programs, implemented at the federal, state, and local levels, would most effectively and equitably upgrade buildings while improving the health and comfort of occupants?
  • How would rapid electrification affect the electric grid?

Synapse has been investigating aspects of these questions for many years. We analyze how to maximize benefits from energy efficiency programs and appropriately factor in public policy objectives when deciding which programs and policies are cost effective. We examined the role of strategic electrification across the Northeast in 2017 and modeled how rapidly the market for new efficient electric heating systems would need to transform in order to become pervasive in the overall building stock by 2050, without requiring costly early replacement of existing heating systems. We focused on Massachusetts in 2018 to help state policymakers evaluate the impact of electrification, coupled with deep energy efficiency, to both reduce energy costs and improve winter energy system reliability. More recently, we modeled the cost-effectiveness of decarbonization through electrification in California buildings and spotlighted the role of rate design and controlled water heaters.

While the goals outlined in the Resolution can be categorized under specific sectors, it is important to note that these goals—and the solutions to them—are often interrelated and cross-cutting. So, too, is much of our work. Our work on strategic electrification in the Northeast and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Energy Plan, for example, are explorations of deep decarbonization across many sectors. We are excited to continue applying our cross-sectoral analytical skills to the themes and goals promoted in the Green New Deal.