Recent crises, such as the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, have led to volatile fossil fuel prices and raised national concerns about energy security. The growing frequency of blackouts across the country due to extreme weather points to an increasingly vulnerable and aging electric grid. Grid capacity right now is incapable of supporting the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects that can generate clean, reliable, domestic energy. Further, as global competition rises, the United States finds itself overly reliant on foreign manufacturing and supply chains for these very technologies we want to deploy.
In order to improve energy security, affordability, and reliability for everyday Americans, the 118th Congress should act decisively to strengthen our energy infrastructure while leveraging emerging energy technology for the energy system of the future. Below are some recommendations for action.
Transmission Lines. The current U.S. electrical grid is an aging piece of infrastructure with sluggish growth and increasing vulnerability to threats from extreme weather and foreign attacks. The 118th Congress should implement policies to revitalize domestic manufacturing and construction, strengthen national energy security and reliability, and generate new jobs and economic growth. The $83 billion worth of planned transmission projects that the ISO/RTO Board has approved or recommended is projected to add $42 billion to U.S. GDP, create more than 400,000 well-paying jobs, and boost direct local spending by nearly $40 billion. However, the rate of construction for new transmission lines must substantially increase to fully harness the new energy economy and achieve ambitious emissions reductions.
High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines are particularly important for connecting renewable energy producing regions with low demand, such as the Southwest and Midwest, to high demand regions. At these distances greater than 300 miles, HVDC transmission lines transmit power with fewer losses than AC lines. HVDC lines can also avoid some of the challenges to AC transmission line development because they can be buried underground, eliminating resident concerns of visual pollution and avoiding vulnerability to extreme weather. Further, if HVDC lines are built along existing rail corridors, their construction only requires negotiation with the seven major American rail companies rather than a myriad of private landowners and federal land management agencies. Congress took an important first step to advancing HVDC technology by directing DOE to develop an HVDC moonshot initiative on cost reduction, as part of the FY 2023 omnibus bill. Now, the 118th Congress can further support this goal by working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to eliminate regulatory obstacles preventing the private sector from building more of these lines along existing corridors. Congress should also create federal tax credits to stimulate domestic manufacturing and construction of HVDC transmission, as well as transmission line construction in general.
Manufacturing. To spur domestic manufacturing capabilities and regain competitive advantages in clean energy technologies, the 118th Congress should fund a new manufacturing-focused branch of DOE’s highly effective State Energy Program (SEP). Congress can double down on this action by scaling investments in domestic capacity to manufacture key industrial products, such as low-carbon cement and steel.
Workforce. Our nation needs a workforce equipped with the skills to build a robust energy economy. To that end, Congress could provide the Department of Energy (DOE) with $30 million annually to establish an Energy Extension System (EES). Modeled after the USDA’s Cooperative Extension System (CES), and in partnership with the DOE’s National Labs, the EES would provide technical assistance to help institutions and individuals across the country take full advantage of emerging opportunities in the energy economy, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), installation and maintenance of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, geothermal power, and more.
Permitting Reform. In order to improve government efficiency, reduce costs, and enable the construction of new infrastructure for the clean energy transition, the 118th Congress should pass legislation on permitting reform to improve National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance timelines. These reforms should include:
- Shortening the statute of limitations on litigation under NEPA to 6 months or less in order to be more consistent with state-level policies;
- Requiring that any public-interest group bringing a case against a NEPA decision to have submitted input during public comment periods;
- Clarifying the duties of federal, state, tribal and local governments when conducting environmental reviews and communicating information to project applicants and the public;
- Clarifying vague statutes, such as the requirement that agencies consider “all reasonable alternatives”;
- Clarifying the appropriate admissibility or substitutability of documents that may reduce burdens on executive staff; and
- Permitting fast-track approval to site zero-emission fueling stations (see next section), in consultation with local utility regulators.
Zero-Emission Fueling Stations. Zero-emission vehicles powered by electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cells are the future of American auto manufacturing. The 118th Congress should pass key legislation to provide the federal government and states with the authorities and resources necessary to build a nationwide network of zero-emission fueling stations, so these new vehicles can refuel anywhere in the country. This includes:
- Amending Title 23 in the United States Code so that the federal government and states can apply gas tax dollars towards funding zero-emission fueling stations;
- Directing the Department of Transportation to use “Jason’s Law” surveys to identify medium- and heavy-duty vehicle parking locations that should be used for zero-emission fueling stations; and
- Authorizing pilot programs and public-private partnerships to develop “best practices” and techniques with key stakeholders for building out a commercially viable nationwide network of zero-emission fueling stations.
Electricity Markets. Power grids are being transformed from simple, fixed energy sources and points of demand to complex webs that feature distributed energy storage, demand response, and power quality factors. “Qualifying facilities” are a special class of small power production facilities and cogeneration facilities created by the Power Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) of 1978 with the right to sell energy or capacity to a utility and purchase services from utilities while being relieved of certain regulatory burdens. The definition of “qualifying facilities” should be expanded beyond power generation facilities to include households and businesses that provide grid services (e.g., feeding power back to the grid during times of peak energy demand). This would ensure that utilities properly compensate customers if they supply these services, thus allowing individual Americans to participate in electricity markets and spurring the adoption of novel clean-energy technologies.
Geothermal Energy. The Earth’s crust holds more than enough untapped geothermal energy to meet U.S.energy needs. Yet, only 0.4% of U.S. electricity is generated by geothermal energy. There’s a major opportunity to leverage this emerging domestic source for U.S. consumers. Congress should support the Geothermal Earthshot and drive innovation by:
- Establishing a $2 billion risk mitigation fund for geothermal energy development within the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, modeled off of successful programs in Iceland, Costa Rica, and Kenya;
- Establishing a $450 million USDA Rural Development grant program to transition industrial cooling and heating systems in the agricultural sector to geothermal energy
- Expanding the authority of the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund within the EPA to include the conversion of existing and abandoned oil and gas fields into geothermal wells; and
- Provide $15 million for a national geothermal team within the Bureau of Land Management to develop training materials, standard operating procedures, and provide technical support to district offices to ensure timely review of geothermal power and cooling/heating projects on federal lands.
A policy memo on Empowering the Geothermal Earthshot is forthcoming from FAS.
- CHIPS and Science: Research and Development in the Office of Science at the Department of Energy
A number of line items for basic science research at the Department of Energy (DOE) were authorized as part of the CHIPS and Science Act – including materials, physical, chemical, and others. These research programs are central to building a new wave of clean energy technologies and ensuring domestic energy security for decades to come. Subsections of this part of the bill include authorizations for research on nuclear energy, energy storage, carbon sequestration, and other technologies. We recommend that the Office of Science, and especially items in Section 10102 of the CHIPS and Science Act covering Basic Energy Sciences, be funded in alignment with the amounts authorized.
- CHIPS and Science: Funding for the Office of Technology Transitions and prize authorized programs
Two additional line items in the CHIPS and Science Act that were authorized but are not yet funded are sections 10713 and 10714. Both authorize prize programs housed in the Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) at the Department of Energy–programs that, if funded, could support innovation and commercialization of clean energy technology. Section 10713 authorizes an awards program for clean energy startup incubators, and section 10714 authorizes a new clean energy technology prize competition for universities. Congress should appropriate the authorized funds for these programs.In addition, Congress should appropriate funds authorized in section 10715 of the CHIPS and Science Act. This section authorizes $3 million per year through FY 2027 for coordination capacity at OTT, including to develop metrics for the impact of OTT programs and to engage more effectively with the clean energy ecosystem. Additional capacity for OTT is critical to the office’s success, and to the development of clean energy technologies more broadly.
- IIJA: Funding for the Critical Minerals Mining and Recycling Grant Program in the DOE
Critical minerals are crucial for clean energy and semiconductor technologies. The U.S. lacks a sufficient domestic supply of critical minerals and is currently overly reliant on foreign critical minerals, which have volatile prices and are often controlled by adversarial countries. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) authorized $100 million from FY 2022 to FY 2024 for the DOE Critical Minerals Mining and Recycling Grant Program to fund pilot projects that process, recycle, or develop critical minerals. This program is not limited to critical minerals for lithium-ion battery production, and has the potential to impact critical minerals used in a variety of clean energy and semiconductor technologies. Congress should appropriate the authorized funds for this program, since it fills the pre-commercialization funding gap for scaling these technologies that is not met by other programs in the IIJA.
- FY 2024: Research and Development in the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy (ARPA-E)
These two offices are key investors in clean energy technologies at different stages of research and commercialization and provide a direct way for the government to scale up American-made energy technologies. To accelerate the energy transition, Congress should provide robust increases for these offices, and at least meet EERE and ARPA-E’s FY 2024 budget requests, such that they can scale up their proven ability of identifying and supporting promising candidates for energy innovation.