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Podcast Episode 1.81

Inside the DOE: Understanding the role of the US Department of Energy in the energy transition

w/ Kate Gordon

“We’ve built an entire industrial economy around a set of energy sources, and we’re now thinking about diversifying way beyond that. And that’s a big set of changes.” What will it take to diversify our energy economy, and how do we actually do it? That is the remit of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), according to Kate Gordon, senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy.

In this week’s podcast, Ms. Gordon joins us to discuss how the DOE is structured today; how they’re working with states, local governments, and tribes to reduce energy consumption and support an equitable clean energy economy and the new industries that come with it – like hydrogen and carbon removal; and what major pieces of legislation are driving the DOE’s energy transition work – and how.

Key Questions:

  1. What role does the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) play, historically and today?
  2. How is the DOE supporting deployment of clean energy technologies?
  3. How are the climate mitigation objectives in recent US legislation (the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act) getting implemented, and what is their real-world benefit?

Featuring:

Kate Gordon
Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy

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Kate Gordon

Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy

Kate Gordon is senior advisor U.S. Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm. Prior to joining the DOE, Kate served as the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom on Climate.

Hosted By:

James Lawler
Climate Now Host

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James Lawler

Climate Now Host
James Lawler is the founder of Climate Now. James started Climate Now as a way to learn about climate change and our energy system. Climate Now’s mission is to distill and communicate the science of our changing climate, the technologies that could help us avoid a climate crisis, and the economic and policy pathways to achieve net zero emissions globally. James is also the founder of Osmosis Films, a creative studio.

Summary:

From the oil crisis to the climate crisis, Kate Gordon, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy, joins Climate Now to discuss the history of the US Department of Energy and how it has evolved to meet the “energy moment we’re in.”

Darren Hau joins as a co-host for our news segment, This Week in Climate News, at the top of the show. 

Interview highlights:

  • Kate begins by giving an overview of the DOE: how it operates, its history, and its role in the current energy transition. 
  • She discusses the 4 major pieces of legislation that have helped move the needle for clean energy:
    • American Rescue Plan
    • CHIPS Act (The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act of 2022)
    • The Infrastructure Bill
    • The Inflation Reduction Act
  • Kate then talks about the DOE programs for communities, particularly low-income communities, to help them participate in the “new energy economy,” such as:
    • Communities LEAP (Local Energy Action Plan)
    • Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
    • Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant (EECBG)
    • and more!

James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome everyone to Climate Now, a podcast that explores and explains the ideas, technologies and the practical on the ground solutions that we’ll need to address the global climate crisis and achieve a net-zero future. I’m James Lawler, and if you like this episode, please leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts.

Share the episode with your friends, or tell us what you think at contact@climatenow.com. The United States Congress has allocated billions of dollars through the US Department of Energy or DOE to aid in the United States clean energy transition to update energy infrastructure, build supply chain resilience, and support research and development of new technologies like hydrogen and small scale nuclear, among other things.

Later in the episode, we share our interview with a Senior Department of Energy official, Kate Gordon, who is Senior Advisor to Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, about some of the exciting new programs that the agency is undertaking. But first, our new segment “This week in Climate News.” For this week in climate news, I’m joined by co-host Darren [00:01:00] Hau.

We’re gonna run through a couple of headlines. An article that occurred that appeared in The Intercept right before the end of 2022, so this was Christmas Eve, gave an overview of an investigation that the House of Representatives was conducting into the climate misinformation campaigns that the fossil fuel industry, so individual companies and also industry bodies, have been conducting really since the 1990s. So in November of 2021, the US House subpoenaed documents from four of the largest oil companies, as well as the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce. The documents revealed years of fossil fuel industry influencing university research, spreading misinformation and bullying reporters, and now it also seems Congressman Ro Khanna, who’s a Democrat from California, who co-chaired the oversight committee and helped to spearhead this investigation, previously told The Intercept that before Republicans take control of the house, the committee would [00:02:00] release all the subpoena documents to the Senate to continue the investigation, or at least finish reviewing them for pertinent information, a task that the committee did not have the time or resources to complete.

But the decision to release the documents has since been reversed. According to Khanna’s press Secretary, the committee also decided not to send letters to the Department of Justice or the White House requesting that the in investigation continue. So what will become of that investigation is yet to be determined.

But the article that is on the intercept.com does quote a number of emails from oil industry executives and others that I think sheds a pretty, pretty harsh light on those campaigns and shows the ways in which those companies have been actively opposing the public interest on this topic for, you know, for many years and quite recently.So it’s worth checking out.

Another thing we noticed is extreme temperatures in Europe this January. Maximiliano Herrera from CNN who tracks extreme temperatures in [00:03:00] Europe has said that this week has brought the most extreme heat wave in European history. So while meteorologists say it’s too early to confidently attribute this extreme heat to climate change, scientists have warned that extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent and more intense. And of course we all know this, and I can say being here on the East coast in New York, the heat in January has also been higher than at least I ever remember it.

Darren Hau: Well, that’s pretty interesting. I imagine that on the silver lining side, it’s probably helping with the natural gas situation in Europe since this heat wave is in the middle of winter, right?

James Lawler: Probably. So speaking of extreme weather, Darren, what is happening with the flood situation in the Bay Area?

Darren Hau: Oh boy. Well, certainly being in the northern California Bay area, we’re seeing a lot of precipitation. I will say, as a native Californian, fortunately it’s certainly not as cold as a bomb cyclone. It’s actually causing a lot of challenges because we’re getting,  uh, flooding of rivers, flooding of homes, potential landslides and mudslides, uh, usually because the soil can’t absorb that much water all at the same time. [00:04:00] And what’s ironic is that California is right now in the middle of a drought, and yet we have all of this rain coming and we have reservoirs that are releasing water in advance of this atmospheric river.

James Lawler: Now let’s talk about the DOE and its mission to help us industry in the average American to move to a more energy efficient economy.

Joining us today is Kate Gordon, senior advisor to Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm. Previously, Kate worked in California as director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and [00:04:28] Research and Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor on Climate. She will give us the inside scoop on how the DOE is supporting one of the biggest shifts in the United States energy sector since the 1970s.

First, we start by discussing what role the DOE plays in our lives today. Then we’ll discuss how funds allocated in big bills like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act translate to real world benefits, particularly for underserved communities, and how quickly can we scale newer technologies like hydrogen and clean energy initiatives so that they become a permanent fixture in our markets?

Kate will start with introducing us to the DOE as it moves away from pure R&D to supporting deployment of these technologies and solutions at scale. She’ll help us wrap our heads around the sheer size of the investments from recent legislation before discussing at greater length how these funds will make a real difference in how communities live and work.

Kate, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. It’s great to have you.

Kate Gordon: It is so great to be here.

James Lawler: What is the Department of Energy? How did it get started and what is [00:05:28] the, DOE’s mandate, generally speaking?

Kate Gordon: Yeah, I mean, we are a large department. We are about a hundred thousand people across both federal employees and contractors.

We have 17 national labs that are associated with the department. Many people will know of many of those labs. We have the National Nuclear Security Administration. We have the Energy Information Agency, and we have four Power Marketing Administrations. So it’s quite a large collection of things. We were started back in 1977… honestly, at another moment of energy transition. Right. It was back in response in part to the oil crisis.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm. ,

Kate Gordon: and started to really look seriously at the question of what would it take for us to dramatically sort of transition and diversify our energy sources? So that’s the fundamental challenge of the department.

Generally, we have been mostly focused on research and science. Up until very recently we’ve been, you know, really focused on sort of, you [00:08:00] know, how do we invest in cutting edge technology? How do we do basic research and science into new technology? Um, only really with the passage of the infrastructure bill have we expanded dramatically into this whole space of deployment of that technology and really getting it to scale. So not just what will it take to diversify our energy economy, but how do we actually do it? And that’s been huge for us as this transition is unfolding. We’re sort of, I think, all evolving beyond the initial, like, ‘oh, everything will be the same.’

‘We’ll just turn on the light switch and the stuff behind the light will be different.’ Now we’re in a moment where we’re realizing that this will take some profound change to the systems that we operate under. Like we’ve built an entire industrial economy around a set of energy sources, and we’re now thinking about diversifying way beyond that.

And that’s a big set of changes. We really are sort of all the pieces of the puzzle, frankly, like everything from basic science all the way through [00:09:00] to who’s making it, who’s using it, who’s getting it to scale, all the way to how do you drive down.

James Lawler: There’s a lot to unpack there. I think maybe one way we could begin is to talk about some of the major pieces of legislation that are helping accelerate our shift away from a carbon-based economy. How is the agency deploying those funds?

Kate Gordon: I think there really have been four major pieces of legislation that have kind of driven this energy moment we’re in, and the first is really the American Rescue Plan, which is important because it drove a lot of money for economic development to communities to figure out what their energy path actually could look.

Like I said, there’s four and I’ll, I’ll say one very quickly, which is CHIPS (and Science Act). It’s the The Science Act. That’s basically the really, really important act that gives more support to the building out the semiconductor industry, both the basic science and also the manufacturing. Why does that matter for this conversation?

We use semiconductors for everything. They’re in solar panels, they’re in electric vehicles, they’re in everything. So we don’t currently have a particularly robust domestic semiconductor [00:8:28] industry. We just saw with COVID what happens to our supply chain when we have a big economic shock. So we need to build that out.

That Bill is very focused on that. It’s very important.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm. .

But then the critical ones from a DOE perspective or an energy perspective, really are the Infrastructure Bill, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides 62 billion to the department to do a variety of things. And I am harping on that number because our annual appropriations around 45 billion. We’re getting 50% more to do a set of really important projects that are essentially about, you know, both the foundational investments like the transmission grid, right?

And transmission reliability. You can’t build an [00:9:08] economy without that, right? Like you can’t actually get to where we need to get with electrification and decarbonization without a functional grid. All the way through these like very signature investments, the hydrogen hubs, for instance,

James Lawler: Mm-hmm. 

Kate Gordon: are a huge piece of that.

The battery supply chain grants, that’s about 8 billion in grants to battery supply chain to make sure that we’re not as dependent on other countries as we have been on building out batteries, which we need for everything. We need them for electric vehicles. We need them for, you know, essentially for electrification of the entire system.

Um, yeah, so it’s, it’s sort of that combination of like the foundational investments, the, the, the big investments in projects. And then on top of that, significantly more into our Weatherization Assistance Program and our Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant program to make sure that we’re those, you know, there’s energy access across the board also, so that one’s big.

The last big one is the Inflation Reduction Act. The secretary always says the Infrastructure Bill is the backbone, the CHIPS Act is the brain, and the Inflation Reduction Act is the lungs. It’s what builds, breaths life into all of this. It’s the bill that allows us to get all of this to scale. Almost everything else is demonstration projects, basic science and research.

This is like, here’s how we get the private sector to tee up the critical commercial liftoff for all of these different types of industries through tax credits primarily. So our role in that depends on the tax credit, but we have a pretty significant role in a couple of them, and the two big ones are the clean energy manufacturing tax credit, which geeks will know as 48C cuz that’s what everyone calls it that comes out of the Obama era.

And this is significantly more for that. And then we also have a new loan authority under our loan program office for up to $250 billion in loan authority for energy infrastructure [00:11:08] repurposing and reuse and decarbonization, which is a very big deal. So those two things are huge and kind of centrally at DOE.

James Lawler: Can we just spend a, a little bit of time on each of those three sort of elements within the infrastructure law?

Kate Gordon: Sure.

James Lawler: So you mentioned these foundational investments in sort of, for example, grid transmission infrastructure. What exactly does that look like? I mean who can apply for these investments or how is that money actually deployed toward developing transmission infrastructure?

Kate Gordon: First, I wanna take a step back and just say that one thing we did with the passage of the Infrastructure Bill was to actually restructure the whole department because it was clear with that passage of that bill and its significance that we were gonna go fully into the business of deployment.

And so we created a whole new office within DOE called the Office of Infrastructure and Deployment, which is an under Secretary Run office, so it basically sits right below the level of the secretary and that [00:12:08] office, you know, has in it the Grid Deployment Office and the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations and the manufacturing supply chain office, and also a new office called State and Community Energy Programs.

Our loan program office has also moved over there, which is important that basically that office exists to get the stuff built right and to do it in a way that works for communities. And I’m focusing on that because that’s where all this action is happening on the infrastructure. So with the Grid deployment Office, for instance, that’s about $20 billion into that office through the Building Better Grid Initiative, which is all different pieces of the Infrastructure Bill.

A big chunk of it is for grid resilience specifically. So it’s really funding to support high transmission line grid deployment, grid resilience projects with existing. And there’s also a piece of it that goes to microgrids.

James Lawler: I see.

Kate Gordon: And to other kind of innovative grid technology systems.

James Lawler: So you mentioned this energy conservation block. Can you give us sort of the highlights of the weatherization [00:13:08] efforts under this infrastructure law?

Kate Gordon: Yeah, these are actually existing programs. So the Weatherization Assistance Program‘s been around for a long time. It’s a program that provides support for low income households to help weatherizing your homes, which is one of the least exciting, but most important parts of the whole energy system is just literally using less of it.

So this allows folks to have people come out into their homes and, you know, do that work, do the closing of the gaps, you know, figuring, doing installation in the attic, whatever that looks like. And that just got significantly more funding under the Infrastructure Law. So we’re able to do a lot more with it, which is great.

One of the things we’re doing a little differently this year with that program is we’re doing a piece of it that’s much more place-based, not just kind of individual households or individual buildings, but really this kind of question of more holistic approach to, you know, communities to blocks, to communities to identify integrated and symbiotic kind of approaches they can take to energy.

[00:14:28] So that’s kind of cool and there’s a lot of opportunity to marry that with other programs like the microgrid thing I just talked about in other programs at DOE.

James Lawler: I’d like to dive into the programs you mentioned under the Inflation Reduction Act, there was the clean manufacturing tax credit, also known as 48c. How does that work?

Kate Gordon: That is tax credits for people who are basically taking a manufacturing facility, retooling, repurposing, building it out. That was introduced back in the recovery… American Rescue Recovery Act (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) back in the day. And it’s, it’s important, it was vastly oversubscribed in the Obama era because this country has a lot of manufactured facilities that have been made obsolete for a variety of reasons: globalization, technology change in the last 50 years. And one thing that 48c, the manufacturing tax credit, allows is for this to be repurposed. And just as an example of what that looks like, when our Secretary, Jennifer Granholm home was the Governor of Michigan, she was dealing with, of course, the[00:15:08] financial crisis and the auto industry bailout, right?

And one thing that she had to deal with was existing auto supply chain manufacturing firms that had been closed down or needed to be expanded or just needed to get back on their feed.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: These grants back then were essential in helping some of those convert to electric vehicle battery manufacturers.

James Lawler: Fascinating.

Kate Gordon: For instance, or electric drive train for the most part is what they were back then so we’re excited about that. There’s a lot of opportunity.

James Lawler: How much money is now flowing through?

Kate Gordon: It’s $10 billion, interestingly, $4 billion of it is set aside for projects in “energy communities” and which are defined as communities that have a closed coal plant or mine

James Lawler: Huh.

Kate Gordon: that was closed before a certain date. So..

James Lawler: Fascinating.

Kate Gordon: That’s interesting, right? Because it’s like very direct connection between the old energy economy and the transformation.

James Lawler: Interesting. You also mentioned, so there’s a new loan authority for up to $250 billion for [00:16:08] energy infrastructure. So tell us more about that. How is that accessible? And to what, to what ends?

Kate Gordon: That is through our loan program’s office, which is an office within the department and it’s now part of our office of of Infrastructure and Deployment, and that office has loan authority now. That office actually does our… runs our tribal loan energy program (Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program (TELGP)).

It runs our Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program (ATVM). There’s a number of things that are run through that office now.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: This is a new authority for them, and what’s interesting about it is that it’s specifically focused on loans for the repurposing or reuse or decarbonization of energy infrastructure.

So that can be those, you know, closed coal plants, coal mines that are no longer being mined. It could be pipelines that are no longer being used. It could be oil platforms that are currently floating offshore oil platforms, but could become offshore wind platforms, right? It could be, [00:17:08] you know, refineries that could be used for sustainable aviation fuel refining.It’s pretty broad in definition. It’s pretty cool.

James Lawler: It’s so exciting cuz it must, I mean, just knowing that that’s there, you know, stimulates all kinds of ideas. I’m sure you must, that office must see all kinds of fascinating proposals.

Kate Gordon: They do. And it’s, you know, actually in general, one of the things I’ve been so fascinated by since coming to DOE is just the whole idea of these existing energy infrastructure as as an opportunity, and not as like a blight on the landscape, but as like, ‘oh, this was this thing, and it used to create a bunch of jobs in tax revenue. And then the community, you all, we all know these communities, right? You lose your… you lose your manufacturing plant, you lose your thing.

There’s a pollution benefit, but there’s a lot of economic harm when that happens. So how do you think about that as, you know, these amazing opportunities. This closed coal plant, it’s already connected to the grid.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: It already is a [00:18:08] transportation network in some cases rail, which is really valuable for some commodities. It already has water rights. In some cases. It already has industrial land permitting. So like what do you do with that? Super, super exciting. So that office is seeing, we’re just gearing up that program. Treasury (US Department of the Treasury) hasn’t put out the guidelines yet, but we’ve been doing listening sessions for the last couple months with industry, and it’s been totally fascinating to hear what people are thinking.

James Lawler: That’s so cool. So these are loans,

Kate Gordon: These are loans or they’re loan guarantees in some cases. So that’s a role that the federal government plays is that we essentially, for projects that are considered higher risk, for one reason or another, we’re able to come in and essentially guarantee the loan.

So if there’s a default, we’ll pay it back. And there’s a certain…what Congress has actually appropriated is the amount of money that sits in reserve in case we need to pay it back. And one thing I think is really cool about it, just cuz I spend a lot of my life on kind of energy community transformation, is that it allows [00:19:08] you to… it actually allows for remediation also.

So if you come in with a closed plant, for instance, that you wanna repurpose to… let’s say you want to use the interconnection to the grid and do some other kind of energy generation, like solar plus storage or something. You also probably have remediation unit to do on that site because it was a coal plant for a long time.

This allows you to do a kind of a package where you can do the remediation piece. You, you can actually do some amount of debt refinancing

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: if there’s outstanding debt from the closed plant, coal plant, which there often is. And then also look at the new generation.

James Lawler: Interesting. So overall, like what would you say is the sort of number one or maybe the top collection of priorities for the doe, given everything that’s going on

Kate Gordon: You know, I would say, the secretary would say really, we are committed… She is committed to making the clean energy transformation irreversible.

James Lawler: Hmm.

Kate Gordon: That’s our job [00:20:08] right now in this amazing moment that we’re in with these resources, and that means changing the economics of that, of that transition. It means simultaneously investing in bringing down the cost of energy so that there’s energy access, because that’s a real goal of ours,

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: of course. So bringing down the cost requires getting to scale on the technology. That’s how you bring down the cost. So, both bring both getting to scale and also weatherization in other ways to just get people to be able to use less. But we’re doing both pieces of that. We’re doing this sort of earth shots piece on where are the… where are the pieces of this that we know have to scale?

Because everything single report we’ve seen shows that that’s, frankly, it’s hydrogen, it’s carbon removal,

James Lawler: mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: It’s, you know, it’s large scale utility scale and distributed wind and solar. It’s offshore wind, right? There’s a bunch of pieces that we know we have to get to scale. So how are [00:21:08] we investing in those through these earth shots?

And then how are we at the same time looking kind of behind that to say the tech, getting the technology right isn’t enough. We also have to help change the economics on the ground. We’ve gotta make sure we’ve got the supply chains. We’ve gotta make sure that we are connecting these into existing infrastructure where we can because it brings the cost down.

And we gotta make sure we’re doing so by creating real benefits to communities, real jobs that are high quality, access to those jobs, mitigating harms to communities, not repeating

James Lawler: Mm-hmm

Kate Gordon: the way we built this economy out in the past. This is a still an industrial economy. It’s still powering the nation.

But we’ve gotta do it better and more equitably and more sustainably, and that’s really our central goal.

James Lawler: Yeah. And you mentioned this earlier, and I just wanted to sort of get your thoughts on this, that all the energy transition in many ways has to be demand driven so that it has to come from communities, it has to come from people who own existing infrastructure, people who own [00:22:08] buildings, you know, wanting to decarbonize, for example, and doing that is often expensive. You know, the IRA goes a fairly long way to making it more attractive. But there’s, there’s still gaps in a lot of places and there there’s a lot of sort of confusion, shall we say, you know, as, as to what will move the needle and

Kate Gordon: Yeah.

James Lawler: what to do. What are sort of the core principles to making this possible from a market standpoint?

Kate Gordon: I think one of the core principles is diversification. And I guess I say that in two senses. One is: this is a diversified set of technologies. There’s not one answer.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm. ,

Kate Gordon: I think that can be a little hard to get your head around it first, because we’re going from a system with very few inputs, actually.

Honestly, it’s basically petroleum, you know, coal, there’s not that many… gas.

James Lawler: Yeah.

Kate Gordon: To a system with a, with a huge number of technologies and inputs and opportunities. And that’s, it’s a little hard to get your head around it first, but it’s exciting. So diversifying our energy [00:23:08] sources is a part of it, but the other side is diversification of the economy.

The other thing we’re trying to get to as a system where we don’t have entire communities that are dependent for jobs and revenue on just one thing. So what’s great about this is it’s a diversified system, and I think that’s a core principle.

James Lawler: Yeah.

Kate Gordon: That means there isn’t one answer to the question,

James Lawler: Right.

Kate Gordon: Of what we need to invest in .

James Lawler: Yeah. Yeah.

Kate Gordon: And it, and it goes to, I think even more so than our current economy where we’re basically shipping stuff all over the world, right? Like we’re sending oil everywhere, we’re shipping coal everywhere. We need to think about local conditions when it comes to building out our energy economy.

So in some places it’s gonna be primarily hydro because that’s what’s there. In some places it’s gonna be a lot of wind or a lot of solar. How do we move those electrons around in an efficient way? How do we use them to balance each other out? How do we build on the assets in a very industrialized [00:24:08] part of the country?

That could become the central place for the supply chain because they’ve got the industrial base and the workforce. That’s exciting. So how do we think about all these different parts of our system honestly working together in a much more synergistic way to get to this sort of very diversified economy?

That’s what we have to start thinking about. And it’s just different.

James Lawler: Yeah.

Kate Gordon: It’s a different approach than a commodity kind of centered economy, but it’s exciting.

James Lawler: Yeah, it’s sort of just as, just as we’re talking about retrofitting a home, we’re talking about retrofitting our whole economy, aren’t we? Like…

Kate Gordon: We are, we are thinking.. yeah, we are talking about that.

Um, but, you know, there is no place I can say definitively in the US or the world that does not have some opportunity.

James Lawler: Right.

Kate Gordon: You know, including in carbon removal, which is something I know you think about a lot. You know, land-based carbon removal requires land. So there are places [00:25:08] that may not be in the right location.

You know, they’re not close to a population center, so they’re not like the best energy generation place. They’re not on the transmission grid, whatever, but they’ve got like an enormous amount of land and the opportunity for reforestation. Let’s think about that as part of the energy system. That is also an important input in economic driver, right?

It just takes us sort of a different approach, a different way of thinking.

James Lawler: So Kate, I’d love to ask you about the work that DOE does with communities to advance clean energy through its technical assistance grants. And this is kind of actually the context in which, in which you and I met actually. Can you tell us about these technical assistance grants? What are they? What do they provide?

Kate Gordon: Yeah, this is something that we’ve been sort of gearing up to at the department, but it’s really the Secretary who’s kind of leaned in on it.  Which is, again, this idea that we can’t just be about technology. We have to be about places and people. And one thing that she initiated when she started was a pilot program called Communities LEAP which stands for Local Energy Action Plan. And what that is, that was a recognition that in, for most communities, they’re not just looking at a single technology, they’re not sort of coming in with, you know, the need to build one thing. And that’s their energy future. Most communities are coming in with sort of a set of ideas of… to get on a pathway toward a new kind of energy economy.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: And Communities LEAP essentially allowed those communities, particularly communities that had either a high pollution burden or were transitioning from fossil energy, allowed them to come in and apply for these technical assistance grants among, on one of seven different pathways. Everything from, you know, renewable energy to manufacturing supply chain to energy efficiency to critical mineral mining was in there.

We’ve chosen 24 communities across the country in a number of different states to be the first pilot communities for Communities LEAP and you know, they’re doing scoping plans with members of our national labs that we [00:27:08] provide them access to our national labs, which are key technical experts on these different technologies.

And then we’re sort of helping them navigate the DOE system to figure out sort of what kind of help they need. So it’s exciting.

James Lawler: Just to close out, like if you had to imagine what the, our country’s energy system looks like in five years and in 10 years, what would you say it will look like?

Kate Gordon: Well, I think it will be much more electrified. That is definitely the direction we’re going.

James Lawler: mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: which will by definition mean we’re investing in that system, the system of batteries. So it will mean a lot more of the supply chain of batteries, which includes critical mineral mining as a piece of it. So, you know, it, it’s sort of an interesting thing to think about because I think it, it looks, it still looks industrial.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: And it ultimately looks a lot cleaner because it’s industrial leading to a more electrified system and less fossil fuels.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Kate Gordon: ultimately. Whether that happens in five years is anyone’s guest. This is a long game, [00:28:08] but I also think it’s a lot more people working in these systems in a way that they’re actually making a living wage.

I mean, one of the great things about bringing more manufacturing back to the US economy is that it will increase the middle class, and I really do believe that this president’s policies are rebuilding the middle class. It, it’s not just cuz I work for him that I’m saying this, it’s why I went to work for him that I’m saying.

James Lawler: Hmm.

Kate Gordon: It’s, it’s very exciting to think about what that will look like because we’ve hollowed that out in this country and it’s had profound impacts on inequality and on people’s quality of life. And I think if we can get to a place where people are together, working together in a way that there is broadly shared prosperity toward these goals, there’s gonna be so much excitement about what the clean energy future looks. But it really will require it being, you know, available to everybody to benefit from it.

James Lawler: That was Kate [00:29:08] Gordon from the US Department of Energy telling us about how the DOE has shifted to meet the energy transition moment, where it’s scaling up public and private funding and what its priorities are today.

I should note that we conducted our interview with Kate before the Department of Energy announced in December that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory made a major breakthrough in fusion energy. If you’re interested in learning more about that breakthrough, please listen to our episode with the principle designer of that fusion experiment wherever you get your podcasts.

That’s it for this episode of the Climate Now podcast. For more episodes, videos, to bring a net-zero city event to your city or to sign in for our newsletter, visit climatenow.com.We hope you’ll join us for our next conversation.

Climate now is made possible in part by our science partners like the Livermore Lab Foundation. The Livermore Lab Foundation supports climate research and carbon cleanup initiatives at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which is a Department of Energy applied science and research facility. More information on [00:30:08] the foundation’s climate work can be found at livermorelabfoundation.org.

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