DOE Launches $20B Energy Grid Program
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the launch of its “Building a Better Grid” Initiative to modernize the country’s national grid as party of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Through the program, the department will work with community and industry stakeholders to identify national transmission needs and work to create facilities that use clean electricity and zero emissions.
“The foundation of our climate and clean energy goals is a safe, reliable, and resilient electric grid that is planned hand-in-hand with community partners and industry stakeholders,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “DOE’s new Building a Better Grid initiative is a job booster spurred by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and collaboration with communities to upgrade the nation’s grid, connect more Americans to clean electricity and broadband, and reliably move clean energy to where it’s needed most.”
The initiative is expected to help reach President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a zero emissions economy by 2050. The program plans to make the U.S. power grid more resilient against the impacts of climate change, increase access to affordability and reliable clean energy and create jobs across industry sectors.
According to the DOE, studies from the past decade have found that 70% of the grid’s transmission lines and transformers are over 25 years old. Independent estimates have also found that electricity transmission systems need to be expanded by 60% by 2030, and may also need to triple it by 2050.
The Notice of Intent, issued by the DOE on Jan. 12, outlines steps to support the development of significant transmission projects and grid upgrades:
Recent Grid Concerns
In addition to the need for clean energy, the DOE also cites extreme weather events that have recently impacted the country’s existing energy infrastructure, such as the 2021 Texas Freeze.
In December, Texas energy companies were gearing up weatherize their plants to prevent a repeat of last year’s grid blackouts. In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri caused millions of Texas consumers to lose power after the state’s power grid system failed.
Located on an island, the Texas grid isn't connected to the country’s two major power grids, leaving federal agencies unable to create regulations. With decisions over the grid left up to state lawmakers, a proposal by the Texas Railroad Commission issued in September laid out a timeline to identify, map and impose weatherization mandates for gas producers by early 2023.
Companies are reportedly able to opt out of “critical infrastructure” classification to avoid the weatherization requirements.
According to NBC News, Todd Staples, President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said gas companies already weatherize to varying degrees and “are working with a sense of urgency.”
Staples said at the time that more than 1,000 facilities out of more than 250,000 statewide have filled out the paperwork to be considered critical facilities.
Electric companies, including Oncor, AEP Texas, CenterPoint and Texas-New Mexico Power Co., have already filed a comment with the commission arguing that the proposed rule was too vague and that it “does not provide information electric utilities will need in order to efficiently and effectively incorporate natural gas facilities into their respective” emergency plans.
“If we see a recurrence of the storm we saw last year, people should probably be worried,” said Adrian Shelley, the Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.