US president Joe Biden will “soon” sign into law the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, he said. On Saturday (6 November), he hailed the long-delayed bill as a "once in a generation" investment.
The bill contains funding for a modernised electricity grid and long-distance transmission — crucial as more wind and other renewable energy is deployed. It also contains funding for ports, which will help the fast-developing offshore wind industry.
A large share of onshore wind in the US is generated in the "wind belt" in the centre of the country, far from many major load centres. Also back-and-forth transfers of power are needed to meet demand as more variable renewable energy is deployed. And port facilities require upgrading and expanding to handle wind turbine components for offshore projects.
Biden plans to sign the bill on Monday (15 November), the White House stated.
“The bipartisan support for large-scale regional and interregional transmission sends a strong message to the industry and its regulators to get busy planning, permitting and paying for new and expanded lines, and provides a wide variety of support in each of those areas,” said Rob Gramlich, president of grid strategies and executive director at advocacy group Americans for a Clean Energy Grid.
The bill will help the grid better withstand severe weather and enable the decarbonisation of the power and other sectors, he said.
National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) president Erik Milito added: “The bipartisan infrastructure deal is a milestone that will support the ascendant American offshore wind opportunity. Access to the capital will help ports invest and improve their operational capabilities in support of offshore wind.”
The House of Representatives passed the Democrat-led bill on Friday (5 November) with the support of some moderate Republicans.
The act, also known as Invest in America, includes some $65 billion for general power sector support, said Gramlich, formerly an executive at the American Wind Energy Association, which has since been merged into the American Clean Power Association.
Specific support for large-scale regional and interregional transmission includes $2.5 billion for the transmission facilitation programme, which among other things will gauge how much projects incorporate advanced grid technologies.
Gramlich added that he expected there to be “around $5 billion” for new large-scale transmission in the bipartisan bill.
Smart grid investments grants are funded at $2.5 billion, including for technologies such as dynamic line reading.
“This bill gives additional incentives and funding for utilities to take that leap to implement these new technologies,” said Hudson Gilmer, CEO and co-founder of LineVision. Such advanced grid technologies can make it cheaper and fast to connect to the grid.
But Gramlich cautioned the US will need about $300 billion this decade for grid upgrades to be on track for the Biden administration’s decarbonisation goals.
the president has set a goal of 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
Apart from funding for transmission, the bill provides $17.4 billion for waterway and coastal infrastructure, inland waterway improvements, and port infrastructure. Of those funds, $450 million per year for five years would go to the transport department’s port infrastructure development programme, according to the NOIA.
Opposition to climate measures
The passage of the bill comes as Congress is still debating the 'build back better" bill, dubbed the reconciliation bill, which includes $550 billion in climate-related items such as extended and more accessible tax credits for wind power production.
Moderate Democrats have agreed to vote on the reconciliation package by 15 November, but many of the bill’s climate elements are opposed by some key moderates, including most notably a Democratic senator for West Virginia, Joe Manchin, who has considerable investments in the coal industry.
Progressive Democrats oppose any scaling back of the reconciliation’s bill’s most far-reaching provisions, including climate.
But because of Manchin’s opposition, the clean energy performance plan has almost certainly been dropped from the bill. It would have encouraged utilities to shift to clean power and penalised those that did not,
To pass the reconciliation bill in the Senate, where Democrats have a razor-thin majority, Democratic leaders likely need every one of their party’s votes to avoid failure — unless they can rally support from some centrist Republicans.