Technology & Innovation

118th Congress: Ensuring Energy Security

01.12.23 | 8 min read | Text by Andy Gordon & Zoë Brouns & Alice Wu

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:

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:

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 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: 

A policy memo on Empowering the Geothermal Earthshot is forthcoming from FAS.

Appropriations Recommendations

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