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Biden Administration Pushes Grid-Expansion Projects

The Biden administration is accelerating deployment of billions of dollars in federal aid for energy transmission projects, according to E&E News.

What’s going on: More than $30 billion in government support is being made available to electrical-grid expansion endeavors through the 2021 infrastructure law and the 2022 climate law.

  • “In late October, the Energy Department announced commitments to purchase $1.3 billion worth of electric power from three multistate transmission projects, making the department the ‘anchor’ tenant to help speed their construction.”
  • With the guidance of John Podesta—senior clean-energy adviser to President Biden (and incoming climate envoy)—the DOE also recently began moving on SunZia Wind and Transmission, a project that “would ship carbon-free electricity from the central desert of New Mexico to Arizona and Southern California.”
  • SunZia had been in development for 16 years when it broke ground in late 2023.

Why it’s important: With the U.S. electrical grid under increasing strain, projects such as SunZia and the nine others the government has recently “moved to the starting line” are being viewed as vital to energy security.

  • The grid expansion promised by these projects is “especially crucial for advancing Biden’s goal of massively expanding the supply of power from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources, often generated many miles from the urban centers and suburbs where electricity needs are greatest.”
  • SunZia’s long journey to groundbreaking shows that [t]oo little has changed” in recent years; permits take too long to get, and “Congress hasn’t streamlined the process.”

“Death by a thousand cuts”: Also bogging down transmission projects are “federal laws, some dating back half a century, that were designed to protect the environment, endangered wildlife and historic sites from development.”

  • “It’s always easier to request another study and ask for more detail, and it ends up being death by a thousand cuts,” said a power-sector consulting source cited by the news outlet.

A model for others? Ultimately getting SunZia to the construction phase came down to creativity—and being able to go straight to the top.

  • In a disagreement with the Audubon Society over transmission lines—which the environmental group said were a threat to bird populations—project developers relocated some lines and “got creative” with others, covering them in a luminescent coating to deter birds from flying into them.
  • “When you’re sitting with Cabinet secretaries, not people five tiers down, and a problem comes up, you can move to resolve it,” said Podesta. 
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