Arizona and the Build Back Better Act: An urgent call for support

September 22, 2021 | Ellen Zuckerman & Caryn Potter

These are challenging times for Arizona. Record drought has caused another horrendous wildfire season and another summer of scorching temperatures and record heatwaves from Phoenix to Tucson. It’s also triggered the unprecedented decision to cut back Arizona’s share of water from the Colorado River, which will significantly impact our state’s hard-working farmers. In addition, intense heat exacerbates air quality problems, resulting in dozens of ozone alerts this summer and signaling unhealthy air. These climate change-related crises are layered on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted Arizona’s economy and hit our communities with high infection, hospitalization, and death rates. 

It’s evident to Arizonans that bold action is needed to help struggling households, ensure the health of our children, and protect the state’s economic future with advanced clean energy. Fortunately, Congress has a solution on the table to address these issues in the Build Back Better Act, which is being considered as part of Congress’s budget reconciliation process. But to pass it, Congress needs the support of Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly.

Although a few of the provisions included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill will help address Arizona’s problems, they are not enough to fix them. The Build Back Better Act takes significant steps toward a clean energy future that puts Arizonans back to work while reducing energy waste and decreasing costs for businesses and homeowners. The last version of the Build Back Better Act includes the following policies and programs:

  • Clean Electricity Payment Program: To move the power sector towards 80% clean electricity by 2030, the “Clean Electricity Payment Program” would provide electric utilities incentive payments to increase their renewable electricity generation investments. In addition to reducing carbon emissions dramatically, this program would create millions of jobs while reducing air pollution. 
  • Electric Vehicle (EV) Tax Incentives: The current plan also includes additional EV charging infrastructure in under-served areas and offers increased tax incentives for EVs. On top of the current $7500 tax incentive, it would provide other $4500 for EVs made using union labor and an additional $500 if the plant employs more than 50% of USA-made parts. These incentives would apply to vehicles up to a specific maximum price, such as $55,000 for sedans. There are also incentives for commercial EVs, up to 30% of the cost. In addition, the EV tax incentives would remain in place for all manufacturers until EVs account for 50% of annual US light-duty vehicle sales. EVs are vital to reducing carbon and other emissions from transportation. They also save EV owners money on fuel and maintenance costs.
  • Energy Efficient Buildings: There are significant incentives for homeowners to invest in energy efficiency improvements and install efficient electric heat pumps and heat pump water heaters included in this proposal. These incentives would help reduce energy costs for middle and low-income families, improve indoor air quality and health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through more efficient energy use and electrification of space heating and hot water. In addition, the bill would provide funding for training of contractors making these buildings improvements, providing additional jobs.
  • Clean Manufacturing Program: The plan incorporates grants and tax incentives to promote more energy-efficient and lower carbon manufacturing. One example is the “buy clean” pilot program that supports low-carbon cement and steel, reducing the emissions of all types of infrastructure projects. Programs like these improve the US industry’s global competitiveness while creating well-paying manufacturing jobs.

These key solutions provide a wealth of co-benefits in the form of new jobs, cleaner air, healthier communities, consumer savings, and the embrace of new technologies and innovations that will put America back in the race for global leadership on clean energy.

Yes, these tax credits and incentives have a significant price tag — but it’s a worthwhile investment that will result in an increase of 7.7 million jobs by 2031 and over $907 billion in economic value added to the US economy. 

However, if Arizonans are to reap these benefits, we need Senator Sinema and Senator Kelly to support the latest version of the Build Back Better Act in the budget reconciliation process. It is time for bold action that inspires innovative solutions. It is time to Build Back Better.

Ellen Zuckerman is Utility Program Co-Director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP). Caryn Potter is Utility Program Manager for SWEEP.