AWEA, WIRES, California ISO ask Congress for power grid upgrades

The coalition on March 14 sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

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While bipartisanship may be elusive on many fronts, there is widespread agreement among a diverse group of energy companies, environmental groups, as well as construction, manufacturing, and technology firms that the North American electric grid is in urgent need of investment and modernization, WIRES said on March 14.

WIRES and other entities, including the American Wind Energy Association, Anbaric Transmission, the California ISO, Clean Line Energy Partners, Henkels & McCoy, Lucky Corridor, Pacific Gas and Electric, and TransWest Express, have sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to think about the grid when considering improving America’s infrastructure, according to the WIRES statement.

According to WIRES Counsel and former FERC Chairman Jim Hoecker, the coalition reflects widespread understanding that the benefits of transmission investment far out-distance the costs in the long run, as well as in the short run. For instance, the statement added, a Southwest Power Pool study demonstrated that, for investments in transmission between 2012 and 2014, each dollar spent to upgrade or expand the grid returned $3.50 in economic benefits.

In the March 14 letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the coalition said, “Electric transmission grid infrastructure is one sector that can accelerate economic advancement, create jobs and save consumers money, if given due attention.”

The coalition also said that is “in full agreement that the nation’s high-voltage electricity transmission system represents one of the most critical national infrastructure priorities of all, and that any infrastructure legislation should include provisions promoting the modernization, environmentally responsible expansion, integration, and technological transformation of the energy grid on which our economy and society utterly depend.”

The obstacles to expanding and modernizing the grid are mainly related to policies and regulatory practices, not a shortage of taxpayer dollars, the coalition said, adding: “We believe that there can be a new consensus on how to make progress in bringing our nation’s energy grid up to its potential without harming key stakeholders’ interests. We look forward to working with you on infrastructure legislation.”

The coalition asked the legislators to prioritize infrastructure proposals that improve the flexibility, reliability, and resiliency of the electric power grid.

According to Congress’ website, one bill, S. 79, was introduced on Jan. 10 by Sen. Angus King Jr. (I-ME), and was referred on the same day to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

According to the bill’s text, the legislation would provide for the establishment of a pilot program to identify security vulnerabilities of certain entities in the energy sector. The term, “covered entity,” means an entity identified under a February 2013 executive order relating to the identification of critical infrastructure where a cybersecurity incident could reasonably result in catastrophic regional or national effects on public health or safety, economic security, or national security, according to the bill.

Another bill, H.R. 210, was introduced on Jan. 3 by Rep. Don Young (R-AK-At large), and was referred on Feb. 10 to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. According to the text of the bill, the legislation would "facilitate the development of energy on Indian lands by reducing federal regulations that impede tribal development of Indian lands, and for other purposes."

According to the bill’s summary, the "bill amends the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 to direct [the Department of the] Interior and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enter into agreements with Indian tribes to carry out demonstration projects that promote biomass energy production."

According to the bill’s text, for each of fiscal years 2016 through 2020, the "Secretary" is to "enter into stewardship contracts or other agreements, other than agreements that are exclusively direct service contracts, with Indian tribes to carry out demonstration projects to promote biomass energy production ... on Indian forest land and in nearby communities by providing reliable supplies of woody biomass from federal land."

The bill continued, "To be eligible to enter into a contract or other agreement ..., an Indian tribe shall submit to the secretary an application" that, for instance, includes a description of the proposed demonstration project. In evaluating the applications, the secretary is to take into consideration whether a proposed demonstration project would, for instance, "improve the connection of electric power transmission facilities serving the Indian tribe with other electric transmission facilities."

Bill H.R. 338 was introduced on Jan. 5 by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL-1), and was referred on Jan. 25 to the Subcommittee on Energy. According to the bill’s text, the legislation calls for the Energy Secretary to prioritize education and training for energy and manufacturing-related jobs in order to increase the number of skilled workers trained to work in energy and manufacturing-related fields when considering awards for existing grant programs.

Under the legislation, state education agencies and local educational agencies would be encouraged to equip students with the skills, mentorships, training, and technical expertise necessary to fill the employment opportunities vital to managing and operating the country’s energy and manufacturing industries, in collaboration with representatives from the energy and manufacturing industries, to identify the areas of highest need in each sector and the skills necessary for a high-quality workforce in such sectors as the utility industry, including work in the transmission, generation, and distribution of electricity and natural gas.

Another bill, H.R. 547, was introduced on Jan. 13 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), and was referred on Jan. 17 to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. According to the bill’s summary, the bill establishes the National Infrastructure Development Bank as a wholly owned government corporation. The bank’s board of directors – which would be responsible for monitoring and overseeing energy, environmental, telecommunications, and transportation infrastructure projects – would be authorized to make loans and loan guarantees to assist in the financing of an infrastructure project; issue public benefit bonds and provide financing to infrastructure projects; and pay an interest subsidy to the issuer of American Infrastructure Bonds, according to the summary.

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