Daily on Energy: Why Biden needs to ramp up transmission lines construction to meet his goals

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WHY WIRES MATTER FOR BIDEN: President Joe Biden’s success in pursuing 100% carbon-free power by 2035 could come down to wires, a key part of his infrastructure agenda that I spotlight in a special edition of our magazine (paywalled).

Interstate transmission lines are critical to transporting electricity from places, typically rural areas such as the Great Plains, that have an abundance of wind or solar to consumers in population centers.

Biden’s goals of carbon-free power by 2035 and net-zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050 will require a doubling or tripling of the U.S. transmission system, according to a recent report from the Energy Systems Integration Group, a nonprofit organization that advises on grid planning.

The problem facing Biden: Major long-distance transmission projects are notoriously difficult to build, often crumbling due to public opposition, and the primary siting authority lies with individual states, not the federal government.

“Everyone knows from an engineering perspective that more transmission makes all the sense in the world, but from a societal aspect, it just runs into roadblocks,” said Aaron Bloom, a board member of the Energy Systems Integration Group.

Bloom said the current transmission system cannot support even half of the nation’s power coming from clean or zero-carbon sources, let alone 100%.

Risks to 100% clean power agenda: Biden faces risks if Congress enacts his proposed clean electricity standard, a key plank of his infrastructure plan that would require utilities to generate 100% carbon-free electricity, without sufficient transmission built to spread massive amounts of clean energy between states.

“The biggest risk is you are going to end up not developing the most cost-effective resources you can,” said Jeff Dennis, managing director and general counsel of Advanced Energy Economy, a group representing clean energy companies.

What’s being done: Biden’s $2.25 trillion green infrastructure plan being debated in Congress envisions a significant role for new transmission, which his administration is pitching as not just boosting clean energy use, but also enabling different regions to share power during crises like the recent blackouts in Texas.

Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for an investment tax credit to spur the construction of at least 20 gigawatts of long-distance transmission lines, a subsidy that proponents say can encourage independent developers who have to find their own financing to start construction.

He also proposes the creation of a federal transmission authority within the Department of Energy to coordinate planning, design, permitting, and the construction of new lines.

Separately, in April, the Transportation Department issued guidance to states on how to build transmission lines along existing highway right-of-ways.

“The administration is very serious about transmission,” said Rob Gramlich, executive director of Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, a coalition of clean energy groups that aims to expand the nation’s transmission system.

FERC progress: Biden also has an important ally prioritizing transmission policy in Richard Glick, the Democratic chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FERC this month took a first step this month calling for public comment on potential changes to transmission siting, regional coordination, funding for projects and oversight on customer costs.

Critically, FERC is exploring whether it should allow the costs of new transmission projects to be charged more widely to users across the entire line.

Generally, new transmission lines are paid for by power generators building new projects, such as a wind farm, that require more transmission capacity.

But electricity users across different states that are connected to the same grid would benefit from the new transmission because they would be paying cheaper power prices resulting from more wind energy. So, those customers should bear some of the costs, say proponents of reforming the rules.

FERC has also taken interim policy steps such as setting up a federal-state task force to explore how to resolve tensions between them in siting projects, along with nudging states to develop their own interstate projects jointly.

Where we are: Michael Skelly, a clean energy entrepreneur known for his failure in the 2000s to build a big interstate transmission line, told me he’s confident the changing policy environment will push projects across the finish line.

He notes that today, state and federal governments, along with utilities, are setting clean electricity goals that recognize the value of transmission.

“It is a somewhat different time now,” Skelly said. “At Clean Line, we knew transmission was the big problem, but now, everybody knows that.”

Welcome to Daily on Energy, written by Washington Examiner Energy and Environment Writer Josh Siegel (@SiegelScribe). Email jsiegel@washingtonexaminer.com for tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email, and we’ll add you to our list.

BATTERY CEO HOPES TO CLOSE ‘MULTITRILLION’ ENERGY MARKET GAP: Mateo Jaramillo, the CEO of the 4-year-old startup Form Energy that last week unveiled details of an iron-air battery capable of discharging power continuously for more than six days, is hoping to provide the missing link to decarbonization of the power system.

Form’s pitch: Unlike today's lithium-ion batteries, Form’s iron-air battery can help keep the lights on during multiday power outages. It can hold and discharge energy for days, enabling higher levels of intermittent renewable power on grids.

Form says its battery is capable of delivering energy costs competitive with conventional fossil fuel power plants and at less than one-tenth the cost of lithium-ion.

“We saw there being a big gap in a multitrillion market that no one really seemed to be addressing,” Jaramillo told me for an interview posted this morning. “If you are going to go after that market opportunity, it better be a solution that can scale. We were only evaluating things that could have abundance to succeed in multiday storage.”

Key to 100% clean power goals: Jaramillo said the dramatic fall in cost for wind and solar, which is cheaper than natural gas in some parts of the country, means “you could get to a 100% renewable grid today.”

But to do it at a cost “society is willing to tolerate” will take more time.

Jaramillo said Form has run models running various scenarios mixing different clean energy technologies, and those involving multiday storage always result in a cheaper system.

“By bringing this new tool to the mix of assets out there, you can decarbonize more quickly, and it probably allows the decision-makers to go faster,” Jaramillo said.

G20 COUNTRIES STUMBLE OVER COAL: Energy and environment ministers from the G20 were unable to agree on phasing out coal and stopping international financing of coal during a meeting in Naples, Italy last week.

The divisions among G20 nations bode badly for the big United Nations climate talks in Glasgow this fall.

The underwhelming results came after wealthy nations of the G7 agreed to ban new government financing by the end of this year for coal plants abroad without carbon capture and storage, a big development that isolated China as the only backers of coal globally.

The larger G20 includes major coal consumers China, India, and Russia.

There was some progress, though: G20 countries are warming up to setting a date for ending “inefficient” fossil fuels subsidies.

A statement from G20 president Italy notes they were unable to reach agreement on a timeline for doing so, but said the topic “deserves a further discussion.”

A communique from the group committed G20 countries that haven’t submitted yet new emissions reductions pledges, such as China, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa to do so “well ahead" of the U.N. summit that begins in October.

G20 countries also reiterated the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees, and the need to “accelerate action” this decade to achieve it. They noted the impacts of climate change would be “much lower” if the more ambitious target — to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — was met.

DEPARTMENT OF UNSURPRISING...CHINA OPPOSES EU CARBON TARIFFS: China is pushing back on the European Union’s plan to impose the world’s first carbon border tax, arguing the scheme violates World Trade Organization principles by seeking to merge trade with addressing climate change.

The European Union this month rolled out its much-anticipated Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, or CBAM, against countries that lack aggressive emissions-reduction policies, forcing companies importing carbon-intensive goods such as steel into the bloc to pay a fee.

"CBAM is essentially a unilateral measure to extend the climate change issue to the trade sector. It violates WTO principles ... and (will) seriously undermine mutual trust in the global community and the prospects for economic growth," said Liu Youbin, a spokesman of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment at a media briefing this morning, in comments reported by Reuters.

China, the world’s top manufacturer of industrial raw materials such as steel and cement, could suffer from the EU’s carbon tariff plan.

China and other countries that export large amounts of industrial products to Europe, such as Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine, could mount a challenge to the EU’s new rules under the WTO.

MOVEMENT ON CYBERSECURITY: The House Energy and Commerce Committee quietly passed eight bipartisan bills last week to better equip the government and businesses with tools to handle the recent explosion in ransomware attacks, the Washington Examiner’s Nihal Krishan reports.

The bills, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, are focused on increasing coordination between the government and relevant industries, implementing cybersecurity best practices, educating everyday technology users, limiting the use of Chinese devices, and strengthening the security programs at the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Despite cyberattacks being a common problem in the past decade, it is the recent series of massive attacks on the computer systems of the federal government, the Colonial Pipeline, and the meat producer JBS that have brought mainstream awareness to the need for increased cybersecurity protections within governments and businesses.

“It’s encouraging that these eight cybersecurity bills are part of a whole government effort to tackle ransomware and hacks,” said Jim Zuffoletti, co-founder and CEO of SafeGuard Cyber, a firm that provides digital risk protection from ransomware attacks and other computer security issues.

The eight bills are expected to be brought to the House floor in the coming months, likely within a larger tech and healthcare bills package, with broad bipartisan support.

BIPARTISAN INFRASTRUCTURE NEGOTIATIONS AT MAKE OR BREAK MOMENT: Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a chief negotiator over the bipartisan infrastructure talks, said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” the group was “90% of the way there” but declared transit funding as the remaining unresolved issue.

Another top negotiator, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the group is “down to the last couple of items” and predicted legislative text would be released this afternoon.

But highway funding is unresolved too, as is water infrastructure, broadband, Davis-Bacon provisions, and how much unspent coronavirus relief money to use as a pay for, according to reporting in Punchbowl News and Politico.

Why urgency matters: Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and Biden need to know soon whether the bipartisan talks stand a chance before proceeding to Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which has fighting climate change as centerpiece.

DRAMATIC FALL IN 2020 EMISSIONS UNDERSCORED: Carbon emissions from energy consumption in the U.S. fell last year to the lowest level since 1983 because of a decline in travel caused by the pandemic, the Energy Information Administration said in a note this morning.

The 4.6 billion metric tons of carbon emitted in 2020 was an 11% decrease from 2019, the largest annual decrease on record.

But progress is going to be short lived as the nation emerges from the pandemic and travel and the economy begin to grow again.

EIA expects carbon emissions to grow by 7% this year and 1.5% in 2022 (the latter is still 3.3% lower than in 2019).

DIXIE FIRE RAGES: A wildfire that has persisted for over 10 days continues to ravage homes in Northern California as authorities scramble to contain the blaze, the Washington Examiner’s Jake Dima reports.

The Dixie fire, which has been active since July 14, has consumed over 190,000 acres in Butte and Plumas counties, officials announced yesterday. A total of 21% of the blaze has been contained, and experts project "extreme" conditions over the next 24 hours.

Dixie is one of seven fires burning throughout the state, though no others have been dubbed a California fire incident as of the time of publishing.

BIPARTISAN CLEAN WATER BILL: Reps. John Garamendi, Democrat of California, and Mike Bost, Republican of Illinois, introduced legislation Friday would amend eligibility provisions for the Federal Water Pollution Control Act’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund so that all wastewater customers have the ability to access the program’s low-interest loans.

Currently, state officials administering SRF programs can only provide low-interest loans and grants to publicly owned wastewater systems.

That leaves out tens of millions of Americans served by regulated water utilities, the bill’s proponents say.

“The current structure of the clean water SRF program is fundamentally unfair and discriminates against customers whose wastewater services are provided by investor-owned utilities, despite the fact that their taxes help fund the program. I’m grateful for the Representatives’ leadership on this bill which is a critical step in advancing water equity across the country,” said Robert Powelson, CEO of the National Association of Water Companies.

The Rundown

Washington Post Power outages cripple parts of the Middle East amid record heat waves and rising unrest

Wall Street Journal Gas engines, and the people behind them, are cast aside for electric vehicles

New York Times Toyota led on clean cars. Now critics say it works to delay them.

Wall Street Journal Rush to build EV charging stations comes without promise of profit

Axios House Oversight panel demands interview with top Exxon lobbyist over climate

Calendar

TUESDAY | JULY 27

10 a.m. 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to examine the White House Fiscal Year 2022 budget request for the Interior Department.

10:30 a.m. 2123 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subcommittee will hold a hearing on oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

2:45 p.m. The Bipartisan Policy Center will host a webinar to discuss how the U.S. can strengthen its domestic supply chain to secure sustainable critical minerals for the energy transition. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will participate.

WEDNESDAY | JULY 28

12 p.m. OurEnergyPolicy will hold a webinar on proposed federal clean energy standards, with opening remarks by Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota.

3 p.m. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions will host a fireside chat with Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island to discuss his carbon pricing bill, the “Save our Future Act.”

THURSDAY | JULY 29

9 a.m. 210 Cannon. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing titled “Financing Climate Solutions and Job Creation.”

10 a.m. 406 Dirksen. The Senate Committee Environment and Public Works Committee’s chemical safety subcommittee will hold a hearing on three of Biden’s nominees to be members of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigations Board.

12 p.m. The American Council for Capital Formation will host a webinar conversation with Reps. Kurt Schrader, Democrat of Oregon, and David McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, on their clean electricity standard bill, the Clean Energy Future through Innovation Act.

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Tags: Energy and Environment, Daily on Energy

Original Author: Josh Siegel

Original Location: Daily on Energy: Why Biden needs to ramp up transmission lines construction to meet his goals

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