Joe Biden’s government will link clean energy incentives to workers’ conditions and wages to ensure the industry does a “better job” over labour rights, said US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm as she posited possible incentives for states to swing behind the President’s green transformation plans.

Massive investment in clean energy infrastructure and new and extended tax incentives proposed under the new US administration’s $2.3trn American Jobs Plan would be linked to ensuring that the resulting power generation is linked to “prevailing wages, decent wages”, Granholm told the BloombergNEF New York Summit.

“We have for a very long time bowed to the altar of cost only in manufacturing in general,” Granholm said.

She cited $500m of funding and grants awarded by the Department of Energy (DoE) since Biden’s inauguration alone.

“When we make those kind of investments in infrastructure, we obviously employ private contractors to do the actual work. [That allows us] to be targeted about who we work with and the ability to require prevailing wages and better rights for workers.”

“The President is committed to connecting clean energy incentives to labour standards, to make sure the energy sector does a better job of this,” said the energy secretary, who added that the administration wants to create “a clean energy workforce that looks like America”.

Biden has focused heavily before and since his election on the potential of renewables, storage and other sectors to create “good-paying” and unionised jobs. The issue is a particularly live one for the nation’s fledgling offshore wind sector, which is relying on significant grants and incentives to help it achieve growth targets set by Biden.

About 6% of US wind power workers currently belong to a union.

Clean Energy Standard

Granholm also told the BloombergNEF summit that states could be incentivised to swing behind a “clean energy standard” that would underpin zero-carbon growth across the US.

Some sort of clean energy standard – possibly similar to the Renewable Portfolio Standards already in place in some states – could be crucial in hitting a massively ambitious objective to have a zero-carbon US power grid by 2035, BloombergNEF analysts said earlier this week.

But it is unclear how such a mechanism could pass through a divided Congress.

Granholm said “the bottom line is that it’s still subject to negotiation” with all options still being considered.

“There’s also a way to consider crafting something that provides incentives [to states] to be able to make that happen… in the same way we did to a race to the top to create high school standards in education.”