America’s leaders should support, not obstruct, our largest clean energy projects

Source: By Tom Kiernan, The Hill • Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015

Last month, America’s business leaders and investors met in Washington to discuss the American Business Act on Climate Change. Now more than ever, we need an electric grid that is up to the task of delivering low-cost wind and solar energy from the resource areas to locations with a demand for clean power.

After years of review, the federal government is on the verge of making decisions on the first major interstate transmission lines in the past three decades – the TransWest Express Transmission Project and the Plains & Eastern Clean Line.

Under environmental review by the Bureau of Land Management since 2007, the TransWest Express is a multistate power line that will harness private capital to bring 3,000 megawatts of wind power from Wyoming to consumers in the West.

Also privately funded, and under environmental review by the Department of Energy, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line will unlock more than 3,500 megawatts of new, low-cost wind power in the Oklahoma Panhandle region and deliver it to utilities and customers in Tennessee, Arkansas, and other markets in the Mid-South and Southeast.

These lines will each carry four times more electricity than the Hoover Dam generates.

More importantly, these transmission projects will open up new areas for wind energy development that are shut out because of an inability to access the gird while further expanding energy markets, creating thousands of jobs, and delivering economical, domestically-produced clean energy to millions of Americans.  Upon completion, these projects and the new wind farms they will enable will be the largest clean energy projects in U.S. history.

The Plains & Eastern Clean Line will clear the way for billions of dollars in new renewable energy projects that could not otherwise be built due to the limitations of the existing electric transmission grid. The project will create thousands of jobs constructing, maintaining, and operating the wind farms and the transmission line.  And it will spur increased employment opportunities in other sectors, including U.S. manufacturing.

Just as the Plains & Eastern Clean Line project is finishing its multiyear environmental review process and is headed towards a decision that could take it over the finish line, a few Members of Congress are pushing legislation to kill the project.  If passed, the legislation would make it much more difficult to utilize the private/public efforts envisioned by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to build new transmission lines.  It would also send the terrible message that private infrastructure investments are not supported by this Congress.

At a time when our nation’s energy needs demand new electric transmission and other energy infrastructure development, this proposed legislation would destroy jobs and is completely at odds with efforts to encourage new infrastructure.

As was made clear during a hearing last week in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, this legislation changes the rules in the middle of the game, after tens of millions of private dollars have been invested in good faith under existing law.  We need private investment in this country to modernize our antiquated electric grid, stimulate economic growth and create new jobs.  America simply cannot afford Beltway political games that will kill jobs and stifle private investment.

The American Wind Energy Association has long been concerned that the development of new transmission infrastructure is not keeping pace with market and policy factors that are driving greater renewable energy development. Indeed, in order to utilize the considerable on-shore wind resources to meet our current and steadily increasing levels of demand while maintaining low electric rates, we need significant new transmission investment.

The potential growth of our renewable energy sector depends in large part on whether projects like Plains & Eastern Clean Line and TransWest Express receive the federal approvals needed to move forward.  American consumers and workers cannot wait any longer.  It is time for Washington to set aside narrow interest politics and approve the critical infrastructure needed so we can get to work and create a cleaner energy future.

Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).