Legal & Regulatory

Federal U.S. Power Sector Initiatives Went Full Throttle in April: Here's the List

The Biden administration has unveiled several sweeping actions over the past month aimed at boosting clean energy deployment, enhancing manufacturing jobs, and reducing pollutant emissions across the power sector.

The measures—many announced as part of a comprehensive Earth Week agenda on April 25—are notable for their strategic push in an election year, highlighting the administration’s commitment to environmental and energy priorities amidst a politically charged climate.

The newly announced initiatives include the implementation of four new stringent rules by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that target air and water pollution reductions from fossil fuel power plants. But they also include bold local, regional, and federal initiatives from the Department of Energy (DOE) that seek to expedite the permitting process for new transmission lines and make critical grid upgrades over the next five years alongside measures from the Department of Interior (DOI) to reduce costs and expedite projects on public lands. In tandem, the Department of Treasury has collaborated with the DOE to allocate tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Separately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has moved forward with major transmission reforms, including a final rule to streamline the interconnection process, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has taken steps to accelerate its review of advanced nuclear reactor types as part of a broader effort to support the deployment and development of new nuclear technologies.

“These massive announcements move us forward in tackling the climate crisis and advancing environmental justice in empowering our workers and in growing our economy,” White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi told reporters in a call on April 24. “These are a big deal for the American people, and they are a product of President Biden’s clear-eyed vision for the future. This is how this is how we win the future,” he added.

Zaidi on Wednesday underscored the scale of progress accomplished over the past four years. “Today [the pace of] clean energy deployment has doubled, and we now have enough clean power on the grid to supply electricity to 70 million homes. So, this isn’t a concept for the future. It’s something that’s showing up in communities already across the country. And if you just look at 2024 and the projections for this year, we are anticipated to add more capacity to the grid this year than we have in 20 years in two decades. And the projection is that 96% of that new power capacity will be clean,” he said. “And if you look at where we are today, I think it gives you a sense of why we can be ambitious moving forward. A big part of moving forward is making sure that we have the supply chains and the resources to actually deploy across the country.”

Following is a lengthy list of recently implemented measures.

Stringent New Environmental Rules

EPA Announces Four New Rules for Power Plant GHG Emissions, Mercury, Effluent Limitations, and Coal Ash. The EPA on April 25 rolled out final rules imposing stringent GHG controls on coal-fired and new baseload natural gas power plants. The rules also significantly tighten mercury and toxic metal emissions standards, strengthen effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs), and new safeguards for legacy coal ash surface impoundments.  “The standards announced today will ensure that power companies use modern, cost-effective technologies to reduce pollution and protect the health and wellbeing of communities, including communities historically overburdened by pollution,” the White House said.

DOE Rolls Out Notable New Transmission and Interconnection Measures

Final Rule to Make Federal Rule More Efficient. The DOE on Thursday issued a rule that establishes the Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorization and Permits (CITAP) program, whichaims to improve coordination across agencies, create efficiencies, and establish a standard two-year timeline for federal transmission authorizations and permits.The CITAP programgives transmission developers a new option for a more efficient review process, a major step to provide increased confidence for the sector to invest in new transmission lines,” the White House said.

Final Rule to Fast Track Environmental Reviews of Existing Transmission Lines. The rule unveiled on Thursday, creates a categorical exclusion, the simplest form of review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for projects that use existing transmission rights of way, such as reconductoring projects, as well as for solar and energy storage projects on already disturbed lands, the White House said.

A Target to Upgrade 100,000 Miles of Existing Transmission. The DOE on Thursday made funding available through the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnership (GRIP) program to support upgrades to existing transmission lines. The DOE’s categorical exclusion “will speed up the process to upgrade existing lines. The power sector can achieve this ambition primarily by deploying modern grid technologies like high-performance conductors and dynamic line ratings that enable existing transmission lines to carry more power,” the White House said. “As a complement to building new lines, deploying solutions like these offer fast and cost-effective ways to unlock hundreds of gigawatts of additional clean energy, increase system reliability and resilience, reduce grid congestion, and cut energy costs.”

Southwest Intertie Project-North. Leveraging $30 billion, the DOE on Thursday unveiled a capacity contract from the Transmission Facilitation Program (TFP) that will support a new 285-mile, 2-GW transmission line from Idaho to Nevada. The Southwest Intertie Project-Northis expected to provide hundreds of jobs to workers with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers,” the White House said.

Completion of the 3.2-GW Ten West Link Line. On Thursday, the DOI announced the completion of the Ten West Link transmission line from Arizona to California. The line will begin transmitting electricity today. The DOI approved the construction of this project in 2022

Continuing Investment in Grid Upgrades. Applications last week closed for up to $2.7 billion in DOE grant funding under the second round of the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) program for projects to upgrade and modernize the transmission and distribution system to increase reliability and resilience.This builds upon $3.46 billion in projects selected for grid upgrades in October 2023, which are funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” the White House said.

Charting a Grid That Will Meet Emerging Challenges.  Last week, the DOE released the 2024 Future of Resource Adequacy Report, which lays out solutions to meet increasing electricity demand while cutting emissions and maintaining affordability. The DOE also released the Innovative Grid Deployment Liftoff Report to chart pathways to deployment of modern, commercially available transmission and distribution technologies that could support 20 GW to 100 GW of peak demand.

Connecting Power Plants to the Grid. In addition, the DOE last week released the Transmission Interconnection Roadmap, a report that lays out solutions to accelerate the process of connecting more power generation to the grid and reduce wait times. “The Roadmap complements $10 million that DOE recently made available for analytical tools and other approaches to accelerate the interconnection process,” The White House said. “Additionally, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is moving forward to implement a series of major transmission reforms, including a final rule to streamline the interconnection process.”

Securing Critical Supply Chains

The White House on Thursday said that while private companies have invested almost $80 billion in clean energy manufacturing, recent actionscontinue the progress to build and secure domestic supply chains and ensure that the U.S. will lead the world in clean energy manufacturing.”

Treasury Dept., DOE Announce $4B in Tax Credit Allocations. The Treasury Department and DOE recently announced $4 billion in IRA tax credit allocations for over 100 manufacturing projects across 35 states under the Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Tax Credit (48C). “This includes projects to manufacture transformers and grid components, electric vehicle components and chargers, and transmission cables, produce clean steel, and process critical minerals and materials,” the White House noted. “These allocations include $1.5 billion for projects in historic energy communities that have experienced closure of coal mines and power plants.”

A Boost for the U.S. Nuclear Fuel Supply Chain. Last week, the DOE announced milestones to support the build out of a domestic fuel supply chain for nuclear energy and reduce U.S. reliance on imports of fuel from Russia. The DOE said it recently closed the requests for proposals to purchase high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) needed for advanced nuclear reactors, part of a $700 million program secured through the IRA. “Moreover, an enrichment plant (located in Piketon, Ohio) produced the first 100 kilograms of civilian HALEU ever in the U.S. with future plans to expand to 900 kilograms.” U.S. capabilities are slated to  further increase owing to an “an additional

$2.7 billion made available from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in the Fiscal Year 2024 Energy and Water Development,” the White House noted. When paired with $2.2 billion from France and the UK, the funding will meet and exceed a commitment made last fall at COP28 to pool funds to develop a safe and secure global supply chain, it said.

Boosting the Renewables Buildout

In addition to these measures, the White House said the administration highlighted steps to accelerate the buildout of renewable energy.

Accelerating Offshore Wind Deployment. On April 24, the DOI announced plans for the next five years of offshore wind leasing, as well as a final rule to modernize offshore wind regulations.Over the next 20 years, the final rule is expected to result in cost savings of roughly $1.9 billion to the offshore renewable energy industry, savings that can be passed onto consumers or used to invest in additional job-creating clean energy projects,” the White House said. The DOE this week also released the Offshore Wind Liftoff Report, charting a path to success for the next wave of projects through continued innovation and cost reductions, along with DOE’s latest steps to support offshore wind manufacturing and transmission development. The DOI has so far approved eight offshore wind projects, a combined 10 GW of commercial-scale offshore wind projects. Two are already providing power to the grid. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has meanwhile four offshore wind lease auctions, which brought in almost $5.5 billion in high bids, including a record-breaking sale offshore New York and New Jersey, and the first-ever sales offshore the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts. BOEM is now looking to explore additional opportunities, including in the Gulf of Maine and offshore Oregon and the U.S. Central Atlantic coast.

Renewable Energy on Public Lands. Earlier this month, the DOI issued a final rule to reduce fees for solar and wind projects on public lands by 80%. It announced that it has now permitted more than 25 GW of clean energy projects on public lands, surpassing a major milestone ahead of 2025.

Boosting Geothermal Energy Resources. Last week, the DOI adopted categorical exclusions to expedite the review and approval of geothermal energy exploration on public lands. In March, the DOE released a new Pathways to Commercial Liftoff report on geothermal power, which suggests U.S. geothermal energy production could grow by a factor of 20 to 90 GW by 2050.

Improving the State and Local Renewable Energy Siting Process.  The DOE earlier this month opened a funding opportunity for state-based collaboratives to build capacity to improve renewable energy planning and siting processes. The funding, supported by the IRA,will accelerate the siting process to bring renewable energy online faster while improving outcomes for host communities, local governments, and disadvantaged communities,” the White House said.

New Solar, Nuclear Part of Environmental Justice Initiatives

Under the President’s Justice40 Initiative, the administration is pursuing a goal that will see 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal in climate, clean energy, and other investments flow todisadvantaged communities that have been marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.

Through the Justice40 Initiative, 518 programs across 19 federal agencies are being reimagined and transformed to ensure the benefits reach the communities that need them most,” the White House noted. “Federal agencies are making this happen with the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, which is used to identify communities that benefit from the Justice40 Initiative.”

Solar for Low-Income Communities. This week the EPA announced $7 billion to deploy solar energy for low-income communities through the Solar for All program, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. “The 60 selections will provide funding to support 60 states, territories, Tribal governments, municipalities, and nonprofits to enable low-income and disadvantaged communities to benefit from solar, cutting annual electricity bills by more than $350 million for low-income households, creating an estimated 200,000 jobs, and increasing grid reliability,” the White House said.

Building Out Power on Former Mine Lands. DOE recently announced up to

$475 million for five projects in Arizona, Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to accelerate clean energy deployment on current and former mine lands. The projects, supported by the BIL, will deploy geothermal, pumped-storage hydropower, solar, and battery storage.

Encouraging a Coal to Nuclear Switch.  The DOE noted it recently released an information guide and technical study for communities and stakeholders who are considering replacing their coal plants with nuclear. “Coal-to-nuclear transition can significantly reduce the cost of nuclear plant construction, while creating new high-paying jobs, increasing community income and revenue, and improving public health,” it said. The guide is based on a technical study that found transitioning from a coal plant to a nuclear one would “increase local employment opportunities, create additional higher-paying jobs, and spur increased revenues and economic activity in the host community.” It also found that, with planning and support for training, most workers at an existing coal plant should be able to transition to work at a replacement nuclear plant.

Financing Local Clean Energy Projects. Earlier this month, the EPA announced $20 billion in grant awards under two competitions from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to create a national network to fund climate and clean energy projects.

Microgrids for Tribal Communities. The DOE recently announced a $72.8 million conditional commitment to fund a solar-plus-storage microgrid on the Tribal lands of the Viejas Band of the Kumeyaay Indians.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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