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Manchin Permitting Bill’s Benefits Touted by Energy Secretary

Sept. 23, 2022, 4:12 PM

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Friday backed the much-debated permitting overhaul provisions unveiled in Congress this week, saying they would enhance the department’s efforts to speed up electric transmission lines that connect clean energy to the grid.

“We are very excited at DOE about the potential for streamlined permitting on clean energy projects,” Granholm told reporters on the sidelines of the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh.

“And I think that holds the greatest promise of the goals we’d like to achieve, which of course is getting to 100% clean electricity by 2035,” Granholm said.

The legislation—part of a deal brokered by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Democratic leaders—would allow the energy secretary to declare “national interest” electric transmission lines and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a construction permit.

Senate Democratic leaders are eyeing attaching Manchin’s bill to a stopgap spending measure to fund the government before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The Manchin bill has minimal support among Republicans and significant pushback from Democrats.

‘Ridiculously Slow’

Currently, transmission projects are overseen by state utility commissions. DOE has authority to establish national interest corridors, and FERC can site a line rejected by a state, but those authorities have not yet been exercised.

The permitting bill would speed up that process for long-haul power lines that can deliver renewable generation to areas of consumer demand, Granholm said.

“Obviously, the transmission process has been ridiculously slow, and so many NIMBY issues related to it,” Granholm said, using an acronym for the “Not In My Backyard” movement.

The department’s new Grid Deployment Office is focused on delivering money for transmission and grid upgrades established by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58) and the climate-and-tax measure (Public Law 117-169) passed in August, Granholm said.

“It’s the thing that keeps me up at night—the amount of transmission and certain energy capacity that’s needed” and the delays that can keep projects waiting in queues, Granholm said. “We are focused intensely on how we can break that.”

Federal energy officials are trying to figure out how to deploy clean energy projects while also being sensitive to communities along the long-haul transmission route that may not see any benefit.

Local Siting

One key effort involves the recent climate law’s $760 million for transmission siting, which includes economic development incentives, said Maria Robinson, director of the Grid Deployment Office, during a side event at the Pittsburgh summit.

“We have to design a program to figure out how we can use that funding to actually move local siting along and encourage states to want to have transmission run through their areas,” Robinson said.

That could be achieved through offering new connections to clean power or economic development incentives to local governments, she said.

“As we’re working through this design phase of all these different funding mechanisms, we’re trying to use that in order to encourage some of these siting and permitting issues to move a little bit faster,” Robinson said.

The department hopes to take advantage of existing rights-of-way and publicly owned land to site transmission and energy projects, Granholm said.

“Community input is important in all of this,” she said. “We have to be very intentional about that, and we’ve got a team that is focused on that as well.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Moore in Washington at dmoore1@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com