Kelly Speakes-Backman
Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
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As the year winds down and we prepare for long-overdue reunions with family and friends, I must admit I’m feeling a bit nervous after so many months of isolation. Like many of you, this will be my first relatively normal Thanksgiving in two years, and I’m out of practice when it comes to dinner-table banter.

I have, however, had plenty of practice extolling the merits of clean energy, energy efficiency, and economy-wide decarbonization during this past year. Shoehorning these topics into casual conversation can be a challenge (especially when it comes to dinner conversation with my mom), but it’s something I’m committed to mastering. This isn’t just because I love my job. Educating Americans about the extraordinary benefits they can expect from the clean-energy transition is a vital component of the Biden-Harris Administration’s fight against the climate crisis.

Most people are aware of the big picture: anthropogenic climate change has created a crisis, world leaders have just convened to discuss our response, and the Biden Administration has implemented an unprecedented plan to make the United States a net-zero carbon emitter by the year 2050. These sweeping developments sometimes feel a little abstract to me. That’s why I believe it’s so important to emphasize the many ways in which decarbonization can materially improve people’s lives. I also believe that no press release, scientific study, or public oratory can be quite as impactful as a simple conversation among friends and family.

So, this holiday season, I’ll do my best to be a clean energy champion—and I invite you to join me. If you’re wondering where to start, I’ve got a few suggestions for you.

  • If the conversation seems focused on weather (especially if you’re in a cold climate region), remind your friends and neighbors that by following a few simple home heating tips, they can save about 30% on their energy bills and slash their home’s carbon emissions.
  • If anyone around the table is on the hunt for a new job, let them know that the renewable power sector is on a hiring spree: the U.S. wind industry now employs more than 116,000 workers in construction, manufacturing, and other fields. The solar industry is expected to employ 500,000 to 1.5 million by 2035. 
  • Perhaps someone traveled a long distance to join you, and they’re less than pleased with the cost of gas. Remind them that electric vehicles are economical alternatives to gas-powered cars, and the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act includes tax incentives of up to $12,500 per electric vehicle. Many states already offer tax incentives and rebates for going electric.
  • Has prolonged social distancing left a friend or loved one feeling cut off from their local community? Here’s a simple way to re-establish a connection with your neighbors: through Community Solar, multiple customers can sign up to buy electricity from a shared solar project, typically installed near the apartment building or multifamily home where they all live. 
  • And finally, if you’re expecting some good-natured ribbing about your aversion to long-term commitments, let everyone know you’re a big supporter of the Long Duration Storage Shot—an initiative underway right now that seeks to reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage in ten years. Won’t they be surprised.

If you manage to cram even one of these talking points into your Thanksgiving conversation, consider it a success! But even more importantly, I wish you a happy, restful, and fun-filled holiday. Our jobs here at the Department can be exhausting, but so can every job—and not all of them afford us the chance to change the world for the better, including addressing macro-scale issues like climate change. So, if you can spare a minute, help me spread the word about the tangible benefits our work can confer to every hardworking person in America.

Happy holidays!