sen. Joe Manchin III warns of strange bedfellows in allowing reform struggle, but finds his own

Senator Joe Manchin III’s controversial bill that would make it easier to build new power plants, dams, pipelines, transmission lines, wind turbines and solar farms could be voted in the Senate as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Groups like the Sunrise Movement and Greenpeace USA are outraged, warning that the West Virginia Democrat legislation would be a boon to the fossil fuel industry. The bill would establish a two-year deadline for environmental assessments for major energy projects, set a 150-day limit on filing lawsuits and require the president to prepare a rolling list of 25 energy projects of “strategic national importance” for faster assessment. — including five fossil fuel projects.

Green groups are especially annoyed that part of the bill would speed up the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a nearly complete 300-mile pipeline that would carry natural gas from its home state of Manchin to Southern Virginia.

Some House progressives, who oppose the bill, and some Senate Republicans, who are broadly in favor of allowing reforms, are outraged that Manchin approved the Democrats’ domestic spending package – the Inflation Reduction Act. – in exchange for the promise of a vote on his proposal. long desired measure. Manchin blamed “revenge politics” on opposition to his bill, saying he has never seen “stranger bedfellows than Bernie Sanders and the far-liberal left-wing Republican leadership.”

But in constructing what his critics call a “dirty deal,” Manchin has ended up with his own strange bedfellows.

Some in the renewable energy sector support the coal state senator’s bill and want a faster review process, citing the 4-year average permit process for energy projects and an even longer process for transmission lines.

“We need to put politics aside and come together to implement common sense and overdue reform,” Heather Zichal, chief executive of the US trade group Clean Power Assn., wrote in an op-ed in The Hill last week. “While Congress considers potential licensing reforms, we cannot afford to miss this unprecedented opportunity. It is time to get the job done and deliver on the promise of this landmark legislation.”

The American Council on Renewable Energy, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy, also supports the bill, the group’s chairman said in a statement last week. The Biden administration also supports the deal, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Friday. The Department of Energy is “very excited” about the “potential for streamlined permits for clean energy projects,” she added.

There is some evidence that allowing reforms could accelerate some clean energy projects. According to a 2022 Department of Energy report, projects that could provide 18,581 megawatts of offshore wind energy — enough for nearly 15 million homes — are stalled in the permitting process. Obtaining federal transmission line permits takes an average of five to 10 years, and the process can change dramatically when a new president takes office, said Rob Gramlich, founder and president of Grid Strategies LLC, a clean energy consulting firm.

Disputes over land and transmission line permits were among the biggest impediments to two massive wind energy projects seeking to bring power from the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast.

The federal transmission line approval process is often the major hurdle that prevents new renewable energy projects from completing in a timely manner, Gramlich, who supports the Manchin bill, told The Times.

“All transmission lines in the [West] will almost certainly traverse a federally administered land, meaning you will need a permit from a federal agency, and that process will take several years and many hundreds of pages and deep applications,” Gramlich said.

Clean energy industry support for Manchin’s reforms is far from unanimous. Even the agency behind one of California’s most sweeping renewable energy projects — one that’s been working on licensing issues for years — isn’t ready to fully support the reforms.

Twenty-five miles off the coast of Humboldt County, California, is the Humboldt Wind Energy Area, one of the nation’s most ideal places to harvest wind energy. Turbines in the 207 square mile area have the potential to generate nearly 1.6 gigawatts, enough energy to power more than 1 million homes.

But Humboldt County is a relatively rural area with only 140,000 residents and a power plant that can’t handle that amount of electricity. A major impediment to exploiting the proposed wind project’s full potential is transmission lines that would bring power south to more populous communities near the Bay Area.

“More than 150 megawatts really can’t be exported from our area,” said Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, a joint energy agency that finds renewable energy alternatives for local governments in Humboldt County. “To move forward, significant upgrades are needed.”

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority has not taken a position on Manchin’s reform. But two years of data just isn’t enough to fully understand the potential environmental impact of a major energy project, Marshall said.

Marshall believes that a good permit process and a successful project require meaningful dialogue with the community. Too often, major energy projects are approved after lengthy environmental impact assessments, and developers rush to get the job done and leave the city without addressing ongoing community concerns, he added.

“Let’s do the amount of work that needs to be done to get it right,” he said, “and it’s not necessarily an arbitrary number of years.”

He does think that a shorter permit procedure has advantages.

“It would be good to find ways to keep the timeline tight, because the climate crisis is urgent and we need to act quickly,” Marshall said. “But that doesn’t mean we have to cut spending. As people say, ‘You can do things well, quickly or cheaply, but you have to choose two.’”

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