The race for president remained up in the air Thursday afternoon, with President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both having multiple avenues to reach the 270 electoral votes they need.
Republicans are projected to retain control over the Senate — Democrats have flipped two of the four seats they needed, but Republicans also flipped a seat, leaving Democrats with a one seat net gain. Though four races remain uncalled, three lean Republican.
On Wednesday, the U.S. officially pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, following President Trump's 2017 pledge to exit the international nonbinding agreement to reduce domestic emissions. Under the pledge, former President Barack Obama promised to reduce U.S. emissions 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. If Biden secures the presidency, he would rejoin the agreement and push for a 100% carbon-free electric sector by 2035. But such a goal is likely to see significant challenges under a Republican-controlled Senate, as well as probable technical hurdles.
Under four more years of Trump and a Republican Senate, analysts have predicted aggressive federal climate policy will likely not materialize, but the clean energy transition is not expected to slow down. A Biden win is likely to have a larger impact on the clean energy sector, but hurdles would remain toward his 2035 decarbonization goal, particularly if he's faced with a Republican Senate.
The utility industry has expressed skepticism about the technical and economic feasibility of such a plan. Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke last week said the former vice president's 2035 plan was "a moonshot" as many of the technologies needed to reach that last 20%-30% are not available "operationally or economically today," E&E News reported.
There is potential foreshadowing here if Biden wins. @XcelEnergy CEO Ben Fowke is leading perhaps the most ambitious transition of any utility in America. He told @JesseJenkins last week he is skeptical the US could meet Biden's 2035 clean electricity standard. pic.twitter.com/rtZNfiO4lW— Ben Storrow (@bstorrow) November 3, 2020
Further, such an undertaking would necessitate a massive transmission overhaul, likely led by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and would need to pass Congress.
Under Trump or Biden, policies included in the bipartisan Energy Innovation Act championed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, earlier this year could pass, as Murkowski indicated votes had been close. The Republican-led package was focused on demonstration projects for small nuclear reactors, geothermal, carbon capture, among other provisions. The White House indicated the president was likely to veto the House's companion bill, so under a Biden presidency it may have a clearer path.
Though the renewables industry hopes to see policies such as tax credit extensions for wind and solar and additional credits for electric vehicles and energy storage, or a carbon price, such policies may not see traction under a continued Republican-led Senate.
But even under a second-term Trump presidency, renewables progress is expected to continue, led by the states and industry. Despite the president's pro-coal rhetoric, wind and solar have flourished over the past four years, and analysts say those gains are unlikely to slow.
Trump has also pursued a deregulatory agenda during his term in office, including on coal ash and emissions regulations, and environmentalists have expressed concerns about a potentially detrimental impact to U.S. climate policy of another Trump term.
"The Trump administration has spent four years undermining climate progress to benefit big polluters. It’s shameful that while votes are still being counted, they are defying the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly support staying in the Paris Agreement," Earthjustice staff attorney Erika Rosenthal said in a statement.