The Shift to a Clean Energy Grid Presents Challenges for US Officials | Whuff News

The Department of Energy is launching programs to spend billions on transmission lines, grid networks, microgrids, and storage facilities as part of efforts to promote the deployment of more clean energy, even as congressional efforts to fix the infrastructure that enable it are stalled.

The agency’s Office of Grid Distribution, created in August, faces the difficult task of allocating dollars in a way that achieves the most bang for the buck and satisfies the industry, it says, and environmental groups, Maria Robinson, director of the office, told Bloomberg Law.

Case in point: It’s testing public opinion to be paid this month for a $10.5 billion initiative to fund grid resilience. That process can address a few key areas — or be spread across different projects, Robinson said.

“It’s something that we continue to struggle with—understanding that, at some point, we’re spreading funding too thinly while at the same time acknowledging that there are many projects that can have a big impact at a low cost,” he said.

the Siting Authority

With no bill in Congress, Robinson’s office hopes to promote the ban while running into opposition from states and environmental groups.

Maria Robinson

Photo courtesy of DOE

The office is compiling studies that lay the groundwork for declaring transmission corridors of “national interest” that will lead federal territorial authority to new lines. Those passages would unlock $2 billion in climate loans and the tax bill, known as the Affordable Care Act, which Democrats passed in August.

The federal move to deregulate comes amid concerns from state utility commissions, which have long exercised discretionary authority. The department’s previous approach to regional site lines was overturned in court.

The office plans to measure “small” corridors aimed at specific routes or projects, Robinson said. The office is also evaluating a $760 million climate bill for governors, a pot of money that could be used for economic development in communities affected by interstate transmission lines.

“We’re looking to engage the people who will be most affected,” Robinson said. “Our main focus at the moment is how we in the department can use some of the funding provided in the IRA to help with other projects that may be called in the national interest in one of those areas.”

‘Light the Fire’

The office hopes to advance old-fashioned power grid upgrades at a time when the Biden administration’s climate goals have become a problem for the power grid, energy experts say.

On the consumer side, demand for electricity is set to increase as electric vehicles roll out and home appliances switch from gas. On the producer side, the cost of renewable energy has fallen and will be further encouraged by climate credit incentives and taxes.

“If you can’t combine the two, we’re going to have to rely on coal and gas,” said Kenneth Irvin, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP who co-chairs the energy practice. “You’d think that would light a fire under FERC and DOE to go ahead with this.”

Irvin said he has customers interested in grabbing the DOE’s incentives but is frustrated by the federal government’s slow pace of building transmission lines. Regulatory delays have stalled many transmission projects, with local groups opposing most of them.

Sen. Joe Manchin’s (DW.Va.) proposal to authorize the amendment would give the energy secretary the authority to declare the nation’s interest and allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a construction permit—ending the corridor study process. The bill failed to win enough support in Congress last month, but provisions are still being considered before the end of the year.

Avoiding Delays

Additional transmission capacity will come from using existing rights of way on federal land and those used by highways, railroads, and utility companies, Robinson said.

Installing high-quality electrical conductors on existing lines is also promising, he said. Those are more conductive materials, such as carbon fiber cores, which conduct electricity more efficiently than steel cores.

Deploying advanced conductors to some of the grid could help add at least 27 gigawatts of zero-carbon generation capacity annually over the next 10 years, according to a March 2022 report published by the American Council on Renewable Energy. One of the authors, Jay Caspary, currently works as a senior consultant at the grid office.

It will be “very nice not to have to worry about all the housing and permitting issues that you might have to deal with with a new infection,” Robinson said.

Proponents of renewable energy want the office to move quickly to use all possible measures to slow the spread.

“Uninterruptible transmission is very important to make the most of the incentives passed and to make sure we don’t have reliability concerns,” said Christina Hayes, managing director of America’s Clean Power Grid.

Consensus Building

Robinson is no stranger to political opposition.

He was initially tapped to lead the department’s Office of Energy, but the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources died in May, with Republican members scathing over his support for clean energy and citing high energy prices in Massachusetts, where he was the first Korean-American. elected to the state legislature.

In July, he was appointed to lead the Office of Grid Distribution, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

“We had to build our entire office from scratch, everything from budget and procurement people, and program people to implement one-third of the infrastructure bill,” Robinson said.

Support for grid investment is “absolutely bipartisan,” Robinson said, citing his work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

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