Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion With Chief Executive Officers of Electric Utilities on the Build Back Better Agenda
The President. Well, let me begin by thanking all these utility executives for coming in today. I think this is the beginning of a—God willing, a new era in the generation of electricity and, fundamentally, clean up the environment. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate your being here. I really mean it.
And the—I'm just going to make a few brief comments and then ask a couple questions. And unfortunately, I have a—I have to go, not immediately, but before we finish. And I want to apologize ahead of time. But thank you, thank you, thank you for being here.
I'm afraid—as I said, I won't be able to stay, but I wanted to come by to thank the utility sector CEOs for being here, you know, and hear from you at the top. You know, you have some of the most important jobs in America right now: keeping electricity systems running and running reliably.
I've spent too much time this last year flying in helicopters over areas of scorched earth that—because utilities were down, because of what's going—I mean, it really is amazing. More territory is burned to the ground in the West Coast than the entire State of New Jersey in terms of square miles. It's just stunning. Absolutely stunning.
And I want to thank you for what you're doing to help get the word out about clean energy. And the component—one of the significant—the most significant component of my Build Back Better plan—and thank you for coming to speak on its behalf—it's about building a clean energy future.
And we're—we're seeing incredible enthusiasm and support for the effort not just from you all, but around the country. I mean, there's a real—people are—I guess when things got really bad, it made people realize: "My Lord, this is real. This is real, this climate change."
And it's about building that future—that clean energy future. And how many major announcements have we seen recently? Ford and GM, for example, building out their electric vehicle production, a total, I think, investment of—I think it sold almost $18 billion—11 and 7.
And Union Pacific Railroad: I was recently out in Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh, but—to see other parts of what was going on. But they—Union Electric—excuse me, the Union Pacific Railroad is buying electric locomotives that are being built in Erie, Pennsylvania.
And just yesterday Tritium announced a new facility in Tennessee that is going to build the electric chargers. They brought in someone to show us what they're like.
And you know, we're—this legislation has already been passed. That's 500,000 electric chargers on our highways. And it's going to change the dynamic of how—not only how we travel, but the economy along the way as well, because—at any rate, companies are investing in clean energy futures. And the world is betting on American workers to build it and the American people to buy it.
And then, we're investing in clean energy—as a stronger, more resilient grid; a hundred-percent clean electricity by 2035. And that's a major piece of the puzzle and one of the commitments that I made—we would try to do.
Like there rest of my Build Back Better plan, the clean energy companies of this plan are about lowering prices. That's what this is all about. It's about reducing family energy bills while protecting the grid from extreme weather and making power more reliable.
And it's also about jobs. And no one knows it better than all of you around this table: The investment is going to support the creation of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs all across the country and how it flows from this—what you're all about to do, or God willing.
And it's going to make us more economically competitive while reducing pollution and improving public health and helping us meet the moment on climate change, the most important piece of it, in my view.
These investments are about today, and they're also about the future. And we can do it without increasing the deficit or raising taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year. And 17 Nobel laureates spontaneously—in economics—spontaneously wrote to me, telling me that they believed that this would ease long-term inflation.
And so the CEOs know exactly why a clean energy future matters. It's an incredible opportunity for our country. And they know how urgent it is to get this done. And there have been—you know, they've been key partners throughout this entire process.
And so I'm grateful for their input, and I look forward to getting a full report from my team on the ideas discussed today. But with your permission, I'd like to stick around a little bit and maybe ask a few questions. And again, I can't tell you how—back up. Four years ago, when I was sitting talking about this issue, the question was: "No—no one is—you guys aren't going to do this. It's not going to happen." No, I mean, for real. That was the nature of the discussion.
But you're here saying you support this, and you're going to try to move if we can get this Build Back Better piece done. And so I'd like to start off with you, Pat, if I may—excuse me—mind me calling you Pat. I apologize. you can call me Joe. [Laughter]
Your—PNM operates in New Mexico and Texas and powering 800,000 homes and businesses. How is this Build Back Better initiative is going to deliver more reliable and affordable power and reduce costs for—if you—if we have it available to you to be able to get the tax benefits?
PNM Resources Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer Patricia K. Vincent-Collawn. Well, Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to speak. And thank you for your support of our clean energy future.
We started our clean energy journey some time ago in New Mexico, working with our Governor, the environmental community, the business community, and our Indigenous communities, all who support clean energy.
[At this point, Ms. Vincent-Collawn continued her remarks, concluding as follows.]
We're also looking to integrate more electric vehicles into the grid. I tell people: Once you drive an electric vehicle, you don't want to drive an internal combustion engine anymore.
The President. They're quiet and quick. [Laughter]
Ms. Vincent-Collawn. Oh, are they quick! [Laughter]And this will help us make the needed improvements in our grid at a lower cost.
And on the corporate tax rate, when we keep that low, we also pass those savings back to our customers. And unfortunately, any increases conversely get pushed back to customers.
But, President Biden, your support of clean energy and the clean energy tax policies will really allow us to accelerate that—making energy reliable, affordable, and cleaner sooner.
So thank you so much.
The President. Well, thank you.
One of the things that I spent some time in one of the very—this is how many years ago now? I guess 3 years ago—in a very large solar site in Nevada.
Ms. Vincent-Collawn. Yes.
The President. And one of the things we were talking about at the time, and I met—it created a hell of a lot of jobs, but it will create more jobs if you can actually transmit that solar energy on a line to a destination that is one that can use it well.
They—my team tells me that there is a capacity to, by further investment in machinery on the site, that it is going to be able to, through high voltage—HVDC tech, move that energy more quickly and lose less of it on the way. Is that right?
Ms. Vincent-Collawn. Absolutely.
The President. And tell me how that—I mean, will you be in a better position to be able to—for your solar sites—be able to afford that with, in fact, you have the tax credits that are moving?
Ms. Vincent-Collawn. Yes, the tax credits will make the more sophisticated transmission infrastructure much less expensive. And again, we pass those savings all along to the consumers. And a lot of the solar—and where you cite solar fields—is not near what we call "load centers"——
The President. Yes.
Ms. Vincent-Collawn. ——or big cities, so you need that transmission. And it is going to be absolutely critical to building our Nation's clean energy infrastructure.
The President. Well, my wife and I, separately, spent a little bit of time with those Indigenous communities in New Mexico and other places. And it really makes a difference—it will make a difference for them in a big way, I think.
Ms. Vincent-Collawn. Absolutely. And you know, especially the Navajo Nation is embracing the clean energy future. They're very thoughtful about how they move away. But they are very much looking forward to developing the solar potential on their lands. And we will be able to export that to other parts of the West that desperately need some more clean energy.
The President. Well, as an aside, before I go to you, Nick, I was out in Colorado looking at the experimental efforts going on up there in the mountains. I was stunned. And I'm familiar with wind energy, because we tried very hard early on in the last administration I was in to promote that. And we had some blowback because people didn't want to be able to see it and the like.
They showed me a blade of a windmill that's 100 yards long. My Lord. I mean, I looked at that and thought, "Holy Lord." I mean, can't fathom—I think some of the press was with me on that trip. It was—it was astounding.
But you're at AEP, Nick. You use a variety of traditional fuels to make power like coal, natural gas, and nuclear. It's good to see you now expanding into wind and solar.
Tell me a little bit about the expansion and the renewables—how that's going for you. Is it going to reduce costs to customers? How—and how, if at all, does my initiative on Build Back Better, the over $500 billion we're talking about for the energy side of this—of which, by the way, I think it's about $200 billion in tax credits and another $100 billion for resilience. But talk to me about how——
American Electric Power Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer Nicholas K. Akins. Sure.
The President. ——how you're making your decisions.
Mr. Akins. Well, first of all, Mr. President, a pleasure to be with you today to talk about these important issues. And you've actually shed the light on a lot of the infrastructure needs of this country.
And certainly, the grid is one of those areas that—that we find—and I grew up as a system operator. Forty years ago, I started as a system operator running power systems. So, for me, your focus on resiliency and reliability of the grid is extremely important.
The addition of renewables in place today is having a substantial impact on the ability to save customers money. Matter of fact, we—this quarter, we'll be putting in—operational—the largest wind power project in North America.
The President. Is that right?
Mr. Akins. About a thousand megawatts in Oklahoma. And it's going to save customers about $2.2 billion over the life of the agreement. So, certainly, it's a huge benefit.
And for us, it's really an opportunity to bring these kinds of resources in, lower costs to customers, and be able to move toward that clean energy future. So, as we look—as we look at that—we've looked at it across our territories. And now we have a plan by 2030 to put over 16,000 megawatts of generation like that in place. So it's really an important opportunity for us.
We also partner extensively with Lonnie Stephenson, the IBEW, and the unions. We're mapping that transition to those skills of the future.
And certainly, partners like that and partners in the Federal Government can enable this—this industry to move much more quickly than we would have otherwise, particularly with the tax provisions; ITCs—investment tax credits; and so forth. Those have really produced benefits for consumers, because those costs—those benefits actually flow through to our consumers and contribute to the economy. So it's a great opportunity for us to make that transition.
The President. Well, I think it's a heck of an opportunity. One of the things—maybe when the press is still here—to talk a little bit about—you know, I was really excited back in, I guess it was probably two-thousand-and—don't hold me to exact year—probably 2012, '13, '14. We were talking about major wind initiative off the eastern coast, the coast of the—on the East Coast. And, as I said there was a—you know, an effort to go off the coast of Delaware and off the coast of New Jersey. And I think it was—they were going to—I think it was able to power—don't hold me to the number—like 800,000 homes in New Jersey. But there was a real blowback when people said, "I don't want to see those things."
And then, remember, up in Nantucket area and Nantucket Sound and—tell me about—when you say you're going to have this largest, essentially, wind farm in Oklahoma, what is the reception of the community with that?
Mr. Akins. Oh, it's been very, very positive, because—not only do they see the benefits of the clean energy, but also the job creations. But the benefits for customers are considerable.
You know, where we run into some issues is—when there's large-scale transmission, which you mentioned to Pat, we really do need to find ways to scope large transmission to get renewables to the big cities. And that's a process that, obviously, your administration has been working on as well.
And for us, it's important to scope those projects, because the savings associated with renewables will actually pay for the transmission.
The President. Yes.
Mr. Akins. So that's a—that's a key area for us to be able to continue to grow.
The President. Are all of you—generic question: Are you getting less resistance when you start talking about wind and the windmills? I know they cause cancer. [Laughter] Bad joke. I shouldn't kid about that. I shouldn't have kidded.
But all kidding aside, I mean, people—I mean, what kind of resistance do you have to——
DTE Energy Executive Chairman Gerard M. Anderson. Well, I——
The President. ——if you—if you're using wind?
Mr. Anderson. I can speak to the arc in Michigan. So we've done a lot of wind in Michigan. We have a pretty good wind regime there. It is what Nick said, that if you get in a community that's highly mixed—where some benefit, and some don't—you'll get resistance. If you're in a community that's more rural—where it becomes a part of their economy, their jobs, their income—the reception is quite high.
We are actually at a transition point in Michigan where solar has now crossed over and is highly competitive with wind. So I think after a long period of investment in wind, we're now going to see our largest scale investments in solar, and the reception to solar has been very high. It's a great addition to the tax base. Big construction—billions of dollars of construction that plays out, and then the permanent jobs that follow. So we expect that to be a well-received renewable resource in the State.
The President. I spent a fair amount of time, prior to the campaign—campaigning and since then—with some of the really entrepreneurial geniuses out in Silicon Valley.
And what they're now talking about—and you all know, and I wonder how you view it—is the ability to store the energy when the wind's not blowing and when the sun's not shining.
I was shown, for example, a—you could have—let's say you were powered either—even it could be geothermal, for that matter. But you have a facility—a—it looks like—to me, it looked like a platform about this wide and about that thick that's in your basement. And it stores energy when the wind's not blowing up when the sun is not shining.
Are you—do you—and I know you're not making those, but how—has that increased the receptiveness of the idea of wind and solar or geothermal?
Duke Energy Chair, President, and Chief Executive Officer Lynn J. Good. Yes, I can respond, Mr. President. Again, thank you for having us join. But we see storage as an incredibly important part of the equation going forward—not only in people's homes, but frankly, on our system——
The President. Yes.
Ms. Good. ——in order to strengthen it and make it capable of taking on more resiliency.
So, as I look at the number of megawatts of renewables we'll add, there's a comparable number of storage megawatts we will also add over the next decades. And the tax credits that you have included would be an important part of lowering costs.
And the infrastructure bill, under the Department of Energy, has a lot of investment in the R&D necessary to advance that battery storage. So we think there's great potential for this.
The President. I asked the question for a selfish reason. Because when I said—this is going to generate jobs well beyond your site. And so there are going to be people manufacturing those battery storage facilities. People—I mean—so I mean, this has such a ripple effect that—God willing.
And what's going to happen is, I predict—you know, right now, in some cases, China is ahead of us, but I think we're going to end up having a significant export market as well that's going to create thousands of good-paying jobs here in the United States. It's going to be in our interests to have this, you know, move around the world.
But you know, I hope that you all are going to look back on this 10 years from now and say, "Boy, that time we didn't have any dinner at that dining room table." [Laughter] "It still worked."
But I want to thank you all very, very much.
National Economic Council Director Brian C. Deese. So, Mr. President, well, unfortunately, we're going to have to let you go here.
The President. I'll turn it over to you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:40 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jane Hunter, chief executive officer and executive director, Tritium. He also referred to H.R. 5376. Ms. Vincent-Collawn referred to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico. Mr. Akins referred to Lonnie R. Stephenson, international president, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion With Chief Executive Officers of Electric Utilities on the Build Back Better Agenda Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354450