U.S. takes step to advance use of Cold War-era law for clean energy

FILE PHOTO: California plans to launch an experiment to cover its aqueducts with solar panels

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Energy on Monday took a step to advance use of a Cold War-era defense law for boosting the reliability of the electric power grid, deploying clean energy, and speeding domestic production of grid technologies such as transformers.

The department issued a request for information, asking the public to determine how best to use the Defense Production Act, or DPA, to boost manufacturing and lower energy costs for consumers.

The DPA "provides us with a vital tool to make targeted investments in key technology areas that are essential to ensuring power grid reliability and achieving our clean energy future," U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a release.

In June, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, invoked the DPA to expand manufacturing of solar panels, heat pumps, transformers, and equipment for "clean electricity-generated fuels" such as electrolyzers and fuel cells. The 1950 law gives the Pentagon wide powers to procure equipment necessary for national defense.

The DOE wants to get input by Nov. 30 from industry, labor, environmental, energy justice, and state, local and tribal stakeholders on using the DPA authority to support the clean energy workforce and technologies needed to combat climate change.

Some Republicans in Congress have criticized Biden's use of the DPA. Late last month, Senator Pat Toomey, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, called Biden's use of the law "irresponsible" and said that increasing use of it disrupted supply chains and violated the intent of the law to make goods available in actual national security emergencies.

Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, a Republican, invoked the DPA in 2019 to stockpile rare earths, the specialized minerals used to make magnets found in weaponry and EVs, and again in 2020 to order General Motors to produce life-saving ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Paul Simao)