Senator Joe Manchin says he won’t support Build Back Better plan, cites grid reliability ‘risk’

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A 200MW solar project in Texas. Image: Duke Energy.

US Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who is key to passing President Joe Biden’s US$1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act (BBB), said yesterday (Sunday) he will not support the package, which he claimed would “risk the reliability” of the country’s electric grid.

BBB features clean energy and climate investments totalling US$555 billion, including wide-reaching support for the US solar sector in the form of tax credits as well as incentives to boost domestic PV manufacturing.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I tried everything humanly possible,” Manchin said in an interview on the Fox News Sunday programme, as he cited concerns with inflation.

In a statement released later in the day, Manchin, who represents West Virginia, said: “If enacted, the bill will also risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains.” 

Having been passed by the House in a near party-line vote on 19 November, the BBB package has since been negotiated on by Senate Democrats, who would need Manchin’s support given the 50-50 split in the Senate and Republicans’ opposition to the bill.

In his statement, Manchin said while the US has invested billions of dollars into clean energy technologies so the country can “continue to lead the world in reducing emissions through innovation”, to do so “at a rate that is faster than technology or the markets allow will have catastrophic consequences for the American people like we have seen in both Texas and California in the last two years”.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Manchin’s comments on FOX “are at odds” with his discussions last week with President Biden, adding that the White House will continue to press him “to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honour his prior commitments and be true to his word”.

Psaki said Manchin’s statement about the climate provisions in BBB is “wrong. Build Back Better will produce a job-creating clean energy future for this country – including West Virginia.”

Unveiled by Biden in October, BBB would include an expansion and extension and expansion of the investment tax credit (ITC), which could result in a 44% hike in US solar deployment by 2030, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie. The act would also revive the production tax credit for solar projects and introduce an ITC for standalone energy storage.

In terms of manufacturing support, incentives would be provided for domestic producers of solar modules, cells, wafers and solar-grade polysilicon. A recently published draft version of the bill from the US Senate Finance Committee would also provide tax credits for manufacturers of tracker and inverter components.

One measure that was previously dropped was the US$150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program – a policy that would have rewarded energy producers that switch to renewables – after Manchin threatened to vote against BBB unless it was removed.

Responding to comments made by Manchin yesterday, Gregory Wetstone, CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), said: “This is not over. The clean energy tax platform and grid infrastructure provisions in the Build Back Better Act are our last, best chance to tackle climate change.”

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