Most of the Ministry of Energy’s budget is dedicated to preserving the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, but it also manages the 17 national laboratories that have contributed to the development of advanced technology used in the production of renewable energy sources, nuclear energy and fossil fuels. Under former President Barack Obama, the energy department oversaw tens of billions of dollars in loan guarantees and subsidies that expanded the acceptance of solar and wind power, causing renewable electricity prices to plummet. At the time, that performance was tarnished by the scandal surrounding Solyndra, a solar technology company that collapsed after receiving more than $ 500 million in federal funds.
DOE will also play a key role in reducing emissions from the nation’s building, another goal of Biden’s climate plan. DOE is responsible for setting appliance standards, researching innovations such as electric heat pumps, and overseeing energy efficiency programs for buildings and homes.
Granholm has sought to position himself as a figure who can help US industry transition to a clean energy economy, a process that Biden has made one of his four main goals.
“[T]The private sector needs more support and political will from our policymakers to help us fully realize the potential of a carbon-free future, ”Granholm wrote in a Nov. 7. op-ed in The Detroit News. “The economy is clear: the time for a low-carbon recovery is now.”
If confirmed, Granholm – who defeated the husband of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to win her second term as governor – would be only the second woman to run the department since its inception in 1977.
Granholm actively promoted herself to be eligible for the job, said people familiar with the case, and used her op-ed to show how Biden’s clean energy goals could fit with his desire to help rejuvenate the Rust Belt economy . She was long considered an opportunity to win a place in Hillary Clinton’s cabinet if Clinton won the 2016 election.
“She worked very hard in 2016 to place herself as an energy secretary on the Clinton team,” said Skip Pruss, who led the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth under Granholm. “She really is a student of the [energy] transition. If you asked me what a disability was in Michigan, I would say she was slightly ahead of her time. ‘
She was winked at a shortlist of candidates including former Energy Minister Ernest Moniz and DOE Undersecretary Arun Majumdar. Environmentalists cracked down on Moniz, saying he was too close to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.
Granholm, Michigan’s connections to the auto industry and its ability to gain support for a transition to electrified transportation would be central to Biden’s vision of the US economy and the country’s climate puzzle. Transportation is the largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, so Biden’s quest to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require widespread adoption of electric cars, trucks, buses, trains and planes.
“She will be phenomenal for DOE,” said Dan Kammen, an energy professor who has worked with Granholm at the University of California-Berkeley. “She understands technology, she understands implementation, and she knows how to run a large agency.”
Ben Lefebvre contributed to this report.