Yesterday, President Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. This $1.2 trillion generational investment in critical infrastructure includes $65 billion for building out the grid and a national EV charging station network and $50 billion for enhancing resiliency to cyber-attacks and catastrophic weather events. But, unfortunately, the newly signed law doesn’t include the much-needed regulatory relief to expedite the upgrade of the grid, which would smooth the transition to the new energy economy.
Just under three years ago, I took the helm as Energy Fairness’ new Executive Director. My very first blog post was entitled “Transmission Key to Smart Energy Policy.” In that post, I referenced a 2017 report from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). One of the authors of that report, Dr. Jennie Jorgensen, lamented the lack of adequate bulk transmission stating that “we can make do with the transmission infrastructure we have for now, but the existing infrastructure was not built considering the changing energy landscape.”
If anything has changed since the publication of that NREL report in 2017, it would be that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to “make do” with the current grid primarily built in the 20th Century but struggling to accommodate the increased electrification demands of the 21st.
Without a doubt, the grid investment included in the Infrastructure bill, ranging from a $6 billion cost-share program to support grid reliability research and development to a $2.5 billion revolving DOE loan fund for new or upgraded transmission lines, is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, however, Congress and the President missed an opportunity to speed the transition to a 21st Century grid by not including the regulatory relief needed to efficiently use this unprecedented investment when critical transmission projects are stalled by state or local inaction. Or, as Rich Glick, appointed by President Biden as Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, recently noted on October 27th, “I think it’s going to be somewhat limited in terms of its deployment.”
Fortunately, what won’t be “limited in terms of its deployment” is the much-needed Federal investment in a national electric vehicle (EV) network. With states like California requiring the sale of all new passenger cars to be zero-emission by 2035, we’ve been asking how the U.S. will handle such an influx of electric vehicles. According to the DOE, there are currently 125,970 EVSE ports. The $7.5 billion allocated to EV charging stations will help meet President Biden’s campaign goal of having 500,000 nationwide electric vehicle service equipment unit (EVSE) ports by 2030. That’s a 400% increase spurred by Federal investment alone. On the private side, Tesla pledged to triple its supercharger network within two years.
There’s no question that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a step in the right direction in transitioning our 20th Century grid to the evolving needs of the 21st Century new energy economy. Yet, we must still address the regulatory “red-tape” holding up the construction of key transmission projects needed for this new energy economy so that consumers will always have access to an affordable, reliable, and resilient supply of energy.