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May 14, 2024, 3:50pm EDT
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Biden’s China tariffs could undercut Democrats’ promised electricity grid revamp

E&E News, The Economist, The New York Times


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The sun rises behind windmills at a wind farm in Palm Springs, California
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
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On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced a hike in trade tariffs for $18 billion worth of Chinese goods — most notably green tech like electric vehicles and solar panels. The move is widely seen as an attempt to undercut Republican calls to limit Chinese goods stifling American competition, but it could also hurt Democrats’ promise of modernizing the country’s electricity grid.

Just on Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — an independent agency that oversees interstate energy transmission — introduced new rules that require grid managers and electricity providers to and plan 20 years ahead: Essentially requiring developers to upgrade their existing infrastructure or build new lines designed for renewable energy sources. And in a separate rule, the agency can now issue permits for new transmission lines, circumventing resistance from Republican states that don’t support the green energy transmission.

The new rules underscore a flashpoint in the energy policy debate between Republicans and Democrats, even as the US’ outdated energy infrastructure becomes increasingly vulnerable to cybersecurity risks and general wear and tear.

Analysts said that the US commitment to green energy will only be delayed if the White House continues implementing protectionist trade policies on renewable energy.

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Tariffs may help Biden politically now, but US consumers could hurt later

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Sources:  
E&E News, The Economist, CNN

The latest tariff hike on Chinese green tech effectively eliminates Chinese competition from the US market. The move could help Biden get support in Rust Belt states that could lead in manufacturing domestic green tech; but the tariffs also underscore “deep tensions” in Biden’s agenda between delivering well-paying jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to E&E news. While Chinese EVs are virtually non-existent on US roads, the new duties on solar panels may discourage consumers from buying panels, and keep them reliant on fossil fuels. They could also give domestic producers “less of an incentive to develop cheap goods in the long term” if they are shielded from foreign competition, according to The Economist. In contrast, Donald Trump has promised to hike tariffs on all foreign goods if elected that would hurt consumers even more if enacted.

FERC becomes latest political flashpoint for Democrats and Republicans

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Source:  
The New York Times

When two Republican FERC members left their seats this year, Sen. Majority leader Chuck Schumer pounced at the opportunity and put pressure on the Democratic majority of the agency to enact the new transmission rules, the New York Times Times reported. Ultimately, the FERC is at the center of the energy policy tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans — and particularly at the state level. Republicans want legislation to fast track permits for fossil fuel projects and pipelines. To that end, they have stalled legislation in Congress that would modernize the grid and help bring renewable energy online. Republicans are “against [transmission] just to be against Biden,” former FERC chair Neil Chatterjee told the Times.

Outdated infrastructure puts grid at risk of cyberattacks

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Source:  
Reuters

The electrical grid is largely unable to reroute electricity quickly, which is a vital safety feature needed to accommodate fluctuating sources of renewable energy. But beyond hardware, the grid’s aging software makes it particularly susceptible to cyberattacks: The North American Electric Reliability Corporation last month estimated there are 60 new vulnerable points added to the grid every day, Reuters reported. These physical or digital weak spots are doors for hackers to inject malware and shut down portions of the grid, and cybersecurity experts are particularly concerned about Russia and China exploiting these vulnerabilities to cause massive blackouts across the country. Indeed, the Corporation said that the grid is particularly at risk as the US heads toward the upcoming election.

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