Princeton’s Jesse Jenkins Speaks to LMA Climate Collaborative Journalists on One Year Anniversary of Historic Climate Legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act

At the end of August, the Local Media Association Covering Climate Collaborative welcomed Princeton assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Dr. Jesse Jenkins to join its monthly call to evaluate  the first year of the historic U.S. climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act. 

“It really is a fundamental shift in America’s footing and stance towards clean energy and climate,” Jenkins said. “At the highest level, the way I like to describe the infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act is that we basically have the full financial might of the federal government aligned behind a clean energy transition for the first time in our history.”

This is Jenkins’ second time visiting the LMA Climate Collab, which hosts monthly “on the record” calls for member news organizations with leading climate scientists, communicators and experts to help local journalists better tell the story of climate change.

Jenkins leads the ZERO lab (Zero-carbon Energy systems Research and Optimization Laboratory) and is the principal investigator of the Rapid Energy Policy Evaluation and Analysis Toolkit (REPEAT) project, which launched in spring 2021. REPEAT uses modeling to better understand the impact of policies, and released reports through the legislative cycle as the IRA became law. They plan to continue the project through at least 2024, thanks to new funding from the Hewlett Foundation.

“That’s allowing us to continue to update our analysis with the latest data, to track our progress and to continue to triangulate and refine the starting points and constraints that we use in these models to help be more realistic, as well as to capture proposed and potentially finalized regulations from the Biden administration,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ key takeaway at this stage: money talks, and the billions of dollars built into IRA are driving big decisions toward clean energy. While challenges remain, he’s optimistic we’ll see improvements as more provisions are implemented.

He sees three key areas where this is showing up in consumers’ lives:

  1. Consumer Decisions

Jenkins sees a clear change in the household math for greener home appliances and vehicle purchases, but also an opportunity for officials and journalists to better inform the public of subsidies and credits available as folks balance the real and relative cost of electrification.

“It does change the economic calculus of an [electric vehicle] vs an internal combustion car, or a heat pump versus a gas boiler, or induction stove,” Jenkins said. “Whatever it is, these are real shifts in the relative cost that some people don’t know have happened, or they don’t know how to claim them. Or they are starting to see them and respond.”

2. Physical Infrastructure Transition

This is still early as projects ramp up, but he predicts a visible transition of clean energy infrastructure in our built environment: utility-scale solar farms and offshore wind, transmission infrastructure, and construction of CO2 pipelines— identifiable structures on the landscape that touch our lives, with specific costs and benefits in communities.

“That is really going to shape how the public perceives this energy transition in their backyards,” Jenkins said.

3. A Manufacturing Renaissance in the U.S.

Jenkins sees the projects under development across the country in both red and blue states, and predicts these will become new anchors of the local economy for many communities.

“We have seen politicians talking about bringing manufacturing back to America for my entire lifetime,” Jenkins said. “It’s now finally happening for real, and that’s a big story. I think a lot of people don’t understand that, or at least they don’t connect the dots necessarily between the one factory in their community and a broader trend that’s occurring. And the reason for that trend, which is that the federal government just changed U.S. policy in an important way.”

Finally,  though the first year of the IRA marks strong progress, Jenkins projects the Inflation Reduction Act – using subsidies and improvements in energy efficiency – will lower average annual energy expenditures nationwide by 3-7% in 2030, a savings of roughly $60-100 billion a year for households, businesses and industry.

Though he notes, they expect savings to peak in 2032, as consumer subsidies expire.

“But if those policies were extended you would see those savings grow,” Jenkins said. “The bill is going to drive a ton of investment.”

For further reading: Jenkins’ authored an excellent piece in Heat Map, “How the Climate Fight Was Almost Lost.” You can also follow news from the Covering Climate Collab in our weekly newsletter.

Newsrooms: Contact us here to learn more about joining the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative. 

About the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative

The more than 35 local news outlets participating in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative include Pulitzer Prize-winning publishers recognized as leaders in local climate reporting, four broadcast TV groups, multiple public radio stations, as well as digital-native climate websites. The partners are grouped into five regional hubs.

We are proud to partner on this effort with key science and journalism partners, including Climate Matters, Climate Communication, SciLine, the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, and Solutions Journalism Network.

About Local Media Association / Local Media Foundation

Local Media Association brings all media together to share, network, collaborate and more. More than 3,000 newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, digital pure-plays, and research and development partners engage with LMA as members or constituents of our programs. As a 501(c)(6) trade association, LMA is focused on the business side of local media. Its programs and labs focus on revenue growth and new business models. LMA helps local media companies develop their strategies via cutting-edge programs, conferences, webinars, research and training.

Local Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable trust, serves as the innovation and transformation affiliate of LMA. Incorporating our four strategic pillarsbusiness transformation, journalism funded by philanthropy, industry collaboration, and sustainability for publishers of color — LMF helps provide local media companies the strategies and resources for meaningful innovation and impactful journalism projects.