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Episode 41

US Election Energy Policy: Trump vs Biden

Published on: August 21, 2020 • Duration: 10 minutes

Roger Hirst and Jim Mitchell, Refinitiv’s Head of America’s Oil Analysts, talk about the energy policies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. As the U.S. heads towards its November election, the candidate's energy policies are likely to come under significant scrutiny by the voting population, given the key role that the energy sector has within the U.S. economy, especially after the recent shift from being a net importer to becoming a net exporter of oil.

  • [00:00:06] Welcome to the Corona Correction Series in association with Refinitiv, I'm your host, Roger Hirst. As the U.S. heads towards its November election, the candidate's energy policies are likely to come under significant scrutiny by the voting population, given the key role that the energy sector has within the U.S. economy, especially after the recent shift from being a net importer to becoming a net exporter of oil. Jim Mitchell, Refinitiv's Head of America's Oil Analysts, summarizes the policy of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. 

    [00:00:37] When President Trump took office in 2016, he initiated the 'America's First' energy plan. This plan had two major goals. One was produce low cost energy. Two was to create American jobs. So to do this, he had to roll back some regulations to make it easier to permit some of the projects. He also created the America's first offshore energy strategy, which then propelled the opportunity to expand the Gulf of Mexico production, and it has. He also wanted to open up the LNG markets, the LNG export markets from the U.S., which had struggled in years previous. Also, he wanted to revive the coal industry. The energy business, the oil and gas business is a very large business, employs a lot of people. The average salary in the oil and gas business from the U.S. labor statistics is about ninety one thousand dollars and change the average salary from the renewable business is about fifty one thousand dollars and change. Energy specifically gasoline and diesel is very dense in BTUs. And it's one of the reasons that combustion engines have been around for 100 or so years. It's a very compact energy source, easy to carry and use on demand. I mentioned briefly about the trade policy exporting LNG becomes a trade policy chip that the government can use to minimize account deficits. Now for the bad side, combustion engines have an exhaust that needs to be managed. The auto industry has done a fantastic job getting this down, getting these emissions down in the last probably 20 years or so. Power plants in the US have done a great job at minimizing this. There still needs to be more done, though. The shipping industry just had a landmark move in their emissions in the start of 2020 was called IMO 2020. They'll have another sizable one in 2025. The last bad part about the oil and gas is it's not an infinite supply. It is my belief that there will be enough oil and gas to power the lives of Americans and people worldwide, certainly for my lifetime, very possibly from my children's lifetime. But with that said, it's not it won't go on forever, we do need some other way to power our lives. 

    [00:03:34] So moving on to the Democratic side, this is taken right from Joe Biden.com. It's called the nine key elements of Joe Biden's plan for clean energy. Number one, reverse Trump's actions, which is to create methane pollution limits. Joe Biden wants to create a new fuel economy standards for light and medium duty trucks, vehicles. Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands. Number two, within one year of office, he wants to put the U.S. on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions for the entire economy. This is coming from the Paris Climate Agreement, which is number three. He wants to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. Number four, Joe Biden wants to invest 400 billion over 10 years in clean energy and energy innovation. Number five, distribute this clean technology, reduce the carbon footprint of all U.S. buildings by 50 percent by 2035. He wants to install five hundred thousand public chargers around the US. That's electric chargers. He also wants to make the egg sector net zero emissions and be the first in the world to do that. Number six, he wants to make environmental justice a federal priority in that he would align all of the federal agencies to do this. Number seven, he wants to hold polluters accountable. Number eight, wants to create 10 million U.S. union jobs. And number nine, he wants to retrain the fossil fuel workers to be able to participate in the new economy. So to be clear, what I'm talking about, what he's talking about for renewables is hydro, wind, biomass, solar and geothermal. A notable missing there is nuclear. There's there's no talk of nuclear in his plan at all. So the good part about this about this plan, we're currently using currently in the U.S., about 20 percent of the five power generation forms that I mentioned, hydro, wind, biomass, solar and geothermal. To put that in perspective, nuclear is about 18 percent of U.S. generation. Nat gas is about 32 percent and coal is about 30 percent. The second good is to reduce the greenhouse gases and protect the ozone layer. And certainly the methane release limits and the CO2 release limits will go a long way to doing that in association with that to reduce particulate matter in the air. Some of the bad parts about renewable energy and this plan, each one of these power generation sources has its own issues in terms of reliability and not being able to reduce power on demand. But that's certainly not the biggest issue. The two big issues that I see, one is the investment in projects. These projects rely on three basic things. One is initial investment, which means the investors need a return. That's been a little bit of a problem. There seems to be a great deal of money willing to invest in these projects, but they need to make sure that this project is permitted, which the permitting process for renewable projects is equally as heinous as it is for refineries or pipelines. Joe Biden has not talked about streamlining this process, but certainly that has to be done. President Trump did do that for the pipeline industry. Third, and possibly the biggest one is the power purchase agreement. Once this power is generated by, for example, a solar array, it has to be sold to a utility to be distributed. In there lies the biggest problem, if there is no power purchase agreement, there's no way that this project can make money. 

    [00:08:22] Second, and arguably equally as big a problem is the distribution system in the US. And I'm talking about the wires and relay stations. Much of this was built in the 50s and 60s and to a lesser extent, the 70s. The wires and the relay stations are old. They're very close to being maxed out, they need to be upgraded. And they also need to be integrated better. President Obama in the 2009 stimulus bill allocated three point six billion dollars to try to upgrade the electrical grid, only to find out that it's going to take hundreds of billions of dollars and 20 years after we start doing this to actually get it completed. So to sum up, from an objective standpoint, we need both. We need the oil industry to keep us going and keep our economy rolling. But we also need to invest and create another way. There needs to be another way. Gas and oil is not infinite, it will run out at some point. We need to be at full steam with renewables when that happens, I don't know when it's going happen. It's not going to be anytime soon, but it will happen and we need to be at full speed when that does happen. 

    [00:09:47] Donald Trump's policy has been one of deregulation with a particular focus on fossil fuels. Joe Biden's policy is one of increased oversight and regulation for the oil and coal sectors whilst encouraging the development of renewable energy. One of the largest impediments to the successful transmission of new forms of energy is the aging distribution network. This will require hundreds of billions of dollars of investment over many decades. Transmission remains key and although there may not be many areas on which the two sides can agree policy, both are calling for a fiscal stimulus to help generate jobs and lift the economy out of the Corona crisis. Infrastructure investment is one of the key areas for fiscal expenditure, and the distribution network can become a primary spending target for both sides, though into the election, we will hear far more about the differences rather than any similarities in these opponents policies. We'll see you later for another update. 

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