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Podcast

It Was a Big Week for the Power Grid

Inside episode 16 of Shift Key.

A power line and a worker.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Transmission has been one of the biggest obstacles of decarbonizing the power grid in America. In the past week, however, the country has taken two big steps toward finally removing it.

Last week, the Department of Energy published a list of 10 high-priority areas for grid development, called National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors, designed to help accelerate some of the most annoying aspects of the siting process. Then on Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission passed a new rule directing grid planners to take a longer view on what America’s future electricity needs will look like.

On this week’s episode of Shift Key, Rob and Jesse talk with two special guests — Maria Robinson, who leads the Energy Department’s Grid Deployment Office, and Heatmap reporter Matthew Zeitlin — about what these measures mean for the Biden administration’s climate policy and how soon we might see new power lines get built. Shift Key is hosted by Robinson Meyer, the founding executive editor of Heatmap, and Jesse Jenkins, a professor of energy systems engineering at Princeton University.

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Here is an excerpt from our conversation:

Robinson Meyer: Wow. Okay. So basically, any — so can I just back up for a second? I think, first of all, I just want to go: Wow. So all of, the whole power we’re talking about today is very important. There’s nothing else like it in the federal government. But also, you’re going to have to do a whole NEPA process on it?

Maria Robinson: Yes, so we’re going to have to do a whole NEPA process for each one of these areas that we’re designating for NIETCs. And then the other part of this is that if they access some funding, they’re going to have to do another NEPA process. And if they access backstop siting at a FERC, you may have to do another NEPA process. And I know Congress is investigating a couple of remedies to that.

Jesse Jenkins: So that’s pretty important. Because the goal here is to try to accelerate the development of transmission, which is critical to tap into the best wind and solar resources across the country that can help lower electricity costs and help decarbonize the grid to meet the growing need for electricity. That’s coming from data centers, as listeners have heard here on Shift Key, from electrification of vehicles, hydrogen production, etc. So we’ve got a big pressure to increase the electricity supply in the country. And, you know, the cheapest resources are renewables, but we’ve got to be able to plug them into the grid.

So if this process is going to ... designating these NIETCs and then ultimately getting transmission lines built out within them, with access to federal support for financing and backstop siting authority, is going to play out over a multi-year NEPA process — or several of them — how quickly could we realistically expect to start seeing transmission lines built within some of these corridors?

Maria Robinson: What’s great about the cohort — and this is just our very first cohort of those named national transmission corridors. We anticipate that we’ll open up applications again, maybe as soon as this fall, for another round, as well, depending on how many we move forward with to do full NEPA on. It really depends on our ability to get all of that NEPA done.

But some of these are really ready for prime time. Some of them are just looking for some additional financing. And are looking at construction dates as soon as, say, 2028, 2029, which in the grand scheme of things for transmission is relatively soon.

This episode of Shift Key is sponsored by…

Watershed's climate data engine helps companies measure and reduce their emissions, turning the data they already have into an audit-ready carbon footprint backed by the latest climate science. Get the sustainability data you need in weeks, not months. Learn more at watershed.com.

FischTank PR uses its decade-plus experience working in the climate tech space to introduce clients to top-tier journalists at the right time, for the right story. We don’t tire-spin — we take action and understand we are hired to get results. To learn more, visit fischtankpr.com.

Music for Shift Key is by Adam Kromelow.

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Robinson Meyer profile image

Robinson Meyer

Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology.

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