The first attempt to turn Green New Deal proposals into legislation would overhaul 1 million public housing units to make them carbon neutral.
Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act that would use seven grant programs to upgrade public housing to include organic grocery stores, onsite childcare, and community gardens. Cost estimates vary depending on an organization’s political affiliation, falling between $119 billion and $172 billion over the next decade, according to left-leaning Data for Progress and a more than $1.6 trillion estimate from right-leaning American Action Forum (AAF).
When the Green New Deal was first introduced in February, the AAF estimated the average U.S. household would see a $295 annual increase in electric bills to decarbonize the economy.
“Any plan that’s talking about very expensive energy is probably going to be a nonstarter,” said former Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.). “You have to make sure energy costs are affordable to the average citizen or you end up having to subsidize the working class so they can afford their electricity bills.”
A September study from the Brattle Group though, shows that decarbonizing the economy and reducing electricity costs are anathema to each other.
In order to eliminate carbon emissions, the U.S. electricity sector will need to produce twice as much electricity as it does now by 2050. In an article for CommonWealth Magazine, Jürgen Weiss, an energy and industrial organization economist and a principal at the Brattle Group, notes that New England has been adding around 280 megawatts from renewable sources every year. But to reach the 2050 target, the region will need to around 6 gigawatts a year — a 2,400 percent increase every year.
That’s hardly a realistic objective based on available technology.
And then there’s the issue of how solar panels or wind turbines are manufactured or installed, which Steve Milloy, the founder of Junk Science, said is impossible without the fossil fuels that Green New Deal advocates and others want to eliminate. Additionally, the costs associated with decarbonization are “astronomical.”
“It’s all kinds of ridiculous,” Milloy said, pointing to California’s mandate to have 5 million electric cars on the state’s roads by 2030. “You’d have to double the amount of rare earth mineral mining in the world just to do that.”
Although energy generated from renewables can save consumers some money, basing an entire electricity system on it will be very costly, said James W. Coleman, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. There will need to be a backup system in the event the primary grid fails, as has happened to areas of the U.S. primarily fueled by natural gas during extreme cold in the winter.
“A gargantuan expansion of battery storage capacity isn’t even feasible right now,” Coleman said. “There are massive amounts of power lines throughout the country. To get the wind and solar where it needs to be, you need land to provide for all of that. And as you start directing the entire resources of the U.S. to build more wind and solar, it would get more expensive. It’s a real question of if it’s possible to do it.”
A gigawatt of solar requires 3.125 million panels and 412 utility-scale wind turbines, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar panels can be 65 inches by 39 inches or, in the case of larger installations, can be up to six feet long. Windustry.org notes that commercial-scale wind turbines rotors have a diameter of 100 meters and can be placed on towers 100 meters tall.
The batteries required to store solar energy as well as the concrete needed to stabilize turbines are manufactured with fossil fuels, Milloy said.
“There’s a huge disconnect between what activists want to do and reality,” he added. “But not only do they not understand it, they don’t care.”
As of Nov. 18, there was no information at Congress.gov, which tracks federal legislation, on the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act although Sanders has introduced it in the Senate.
In addition to creating 1.2 million public housing units running solely on renewable energy, the law would require high-speed internet, community gardens, onsite healthcare and dental clinics, and a “bulk purchase” of bicycles to give one to each resident.