By Molly Christian and Ellie Potter
January 12, 2022 - After nearly a year in office, the Biden administration announced new steps to expand clean energy and transmission deployment as it seeks to decarbonize the US economy.
On Jan. 12, seven federal agencies shared plans to further President Joe Biden's climate goals, which include eliminating emissions from the power sector and boosting renewable energy production from federal lands and waters.
As part of the new efforts, the US Department of the Interior in February will hold its largest-ever lease sale for offshore wind power. The auction will cover more than 480,000 acres in the New York Bight off the coasts of New York and New Jersey and is projected to generate up to 7 GW of wind power -- enough to power 2 million homes.
The lease sale will include provisions to encourage offshore wind projects to be built with union labor and domestically-made materials, a White House fact sheet said.
Along with the upcoming lease sale, Interior is launching a new interagency effort to improve coordination and streamline reviews for clean energy projects on federal lands. Participating agencies will include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Energy, as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The efforts will support the administration's target to deploy 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030 and help fulfill a congressional mandate to permit 25 GW of renewable energy on public lands by 2025.
The Department of Energy is creating a Building a Better Grid initiative, a "coordinated transmission deployment program" aimed at helping the nation build long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines, according to the fact sheet.
The initiative will use funding included in the bipartisan infrastructure law to construct thousands of miles of transmission lines needed to bring power from clean energy sources to major demand centers. Various studies have projected that the nation will need to double or even triple its electric transmission capacity to meet Biden's 2050 economy-wide decarbonization target.
Among its priority areas, the grid initiative will seek to modernize transmission planning, using various national studies and technical assistance in the process. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also examining potential transmission planning reforms, one of the primary focus areas of a transmission proceeding the commission launched in July 2021 (RM21-17).
Additionally, the DOE's initiative seeks to improve the federal permitting process for transmission projects by designating national corridors in capacity-constrained areas and using public-private partnerships to accelerate upgrades and new projects. The grid initiative will support transmission research, development and demonstration projects as well.
The infrastructure law contained billions of dollars for grid infrastructure, including a new $2.5 billion transmission facilitation program to build new lines as well as repair and upgrade existing facilities. The legislation also will provide more than $10 billion in grants to help states, tribes and utilities strengthen the grid against future outages.
Lastly, the Department of Agriculture is creating a rural energy pilot program using $10 million in available grants to help underserved communities deploy community-scale clean energy technologies. The grant funding is in addition to money approved through the American Rescue Plan enacted in 2021 to promote job and workforce development, including in areas previously dependent on coal mining.
"Today's announcements build on a year of unprecedented progress on clean energy deployment," the White House said in a fact sheet on the new initiatives.
Build Back Better
Despite the new executive actions, the Biden administration stressed that the US cannot fully realize its clean energy potential without Congress' help.
In November 2021, the US House of Representatives passed the roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, a massive social spending package that contained $555 billion for climate programs. But the legislation, which Democrats are trying to pass along party lines using the budget reconciliation process, remains in limbo in the US Senate amid concerns from moderate Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia.
"The administration continues to use every tool available to deploy clean energy at a record pace," the White House said in its Jan. 12 fact sheet. "But to fully seize the opportunities of a clean energy economy, President Biden is pressing forward on passing the Build Back Better Act."
During a Jan. 11 background call organized by the White House, a senior administration official said the White House is "continuing to make the case, continuing to work with the Congress, continuing to pursue this agenda every way we know how."