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Progress on Permitting

In today's issue of "This Week in Climate", we look at a breakthrough in permitting.
Julian Moore
May 29, 2023 9 min read
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Permitting Breakthrough

Lawmakers are close to reaching a modest agreement on reforming the energy project permitting process in the United States. The deal is part of legislation aimed at raising the debt ceiling and preventing a default. The agreement would simplify the construction of interstate transmission lines required for clean electricity transportation across the country.

In order to appeal to Republicans, the deal would also introduce minor changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a law blamed by GOP lawmakers for causing delays in infrastructure projects.

The proposed transmission plan is based on the Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (Big Wires) Act, introduced by Rep. Scott Peters and Sen. John Hickenlooper. That bill aims to incentivize the construction of transmission lines by requiring regions to transfer at least 30 percent of their peak electricity demand.

Republicans initially pushed for permitting to be included in the debt ceiling bill, with Rep. Garret Graves advocating for a permitting proposal. However, the emerging deal only includes incremental changes sought by Graves and other Republicans. It does not incorporate the broader changes proposed by some Democrats, who want to grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) more authority over interstate transmission lines.

The White House has also expressed its support for permitting reform, with a focus on accelerating the expansion of transmission lines and renewable energy projects on federal lands.

States Take the Lead

Minnesota and Colorado are set to introduce new laws that provide significant financial incentives for adopting renewable energy and electric vehicles. These laws are modeled after federal clean energy tax credits established under the Inflation Reduction Act and aim to accelerate the nation's transition to clean energy.

The legislation in Minnesota allocates hundreds of millions of dollars from a $2 billion budget bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes tax rebates that incentivize the adoption of solar power systems, electric home appliances, and electric vehicles. The bill is expected to pass through the Democrat-controlled state legislature and be signed into law by Governor Tim Walz.

Similarly, Colorado recently enacted a series of bills that offer state tax credits of up to $120 million for heat pumps, electric vehicles, and even electric lawn equipment. Residents in these states who install solar panels, utilize energy-efficient heat pumps, or purchase electric vehicles could benefit from combined credits from both the state and federal governments, making these clean energy technologies more affordable. The Minnesota legislation will also support private developers by providing funding that complements federal resources for clean energy projects.

Once passed, the bill will allocate funds for solar panel installations in schools and public buildings, electric vehicle rebates, electric school buses, grants for electric heat pump installations in homes, electric panel installations for appliances, and the state's green bank.

In Colorado, the laws are more consumer-focused, allowing residents to access state-level tax credits for electric vehicles, electric bicycles, and electric heat pumps. State-level actions are crucial for the successful implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, as they have the power to direct utilities to reduce carbon emissions and encourage the adoption of renewable energy resources.

Renewables on Tribal Lands

The U.S. Energy Department has announced $34 million in funding for 18 renewable energy projects, as part of the Biden administration's initiative to provide clean electricity to remote areas that lack reliable service, face high energy expenses, and suffer from the impacts of climate change.

The funding, sourced from annual Congressional appropriations, will support various smaller-scale projects across the country, ranging from microgrids to solar power. These projects will benefit 1,000 tribal buildings and over 800 homes, spanning from Alaska to New York.

The issue of energy poverty is particularly significant in Native American communities. Empowering these communities with the ability to generate their own power not only provides economic opportunities but also establishes a workforce.

A 2022 Energy Department survey revealed that 31% of tribes experience monthly or more frequent electricity outages. Approximately 17,000 homes on tribal lands, housing around 54,400 individuals, have reported a lack of electricity.

Among the grants awarded, the Hopi Utilities Corporation in Arizona will receive $3.6 million to implement a remote microgrid with 400 kW of solar power and 1,500 kilowatt-hours of battery energy storage. Additionally, a project in Alaska will receive $600,000 to incorporate battery storage into the Atmautluak Tribal Utilities' wind diesel power system. This will help the tribe reduce reliance on fossil fuels and save households $15,000 annually in home heating expenses.

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The Author

Julian Moore