Biden administration announces ‘largest ever’ investment in US electric grid

A worker repairs a utility pole during a power outage after Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., on Thursday, September 2nd, 2021. | Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration announced $3.46 billion in funding today to upgrade the US’s aging electric grid, the largest investment to date in the grid. The money, which comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will go to 58 different projects across 44 states.

Stressed power grids need the money badly, both to prevent blackouts and bring more clean energy online. Weather disasters supercharged by climate change have already led to more power outages in the US. And President Biden has a goal of creating a 100 percent carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, which will help the US keep commitments it made under the Paris climate agreement.

“Much of [the grid] was built nearly a century ago … We need it to be bigger, we need it to be stronger, we needed to be smarter,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a call with reporters.

Altogether, the projects selected are expected to leverage $8 billion in both federal and private investments. The Department of Energy says the funding will help get more than 35 gigawatts of renewable energy online, equivalent to about half of the utility-scale solar capacity in the nation in 2022.

It’ll also support 400 microgrids, which can generate energy locally — say, with rooftop solar panels — and protect themselves from outages affecting the larger power grid. That’s the plan with a project the state of Louisiana is launching with this funding. Distributed energy resources like solar panels can either connect to the larger utility-owned power grid or stand alone as part of a microgrid in case a storm or other disaster knocks out transmission lines or a power plant.

Microgrids are one solution some New Orleans residents have been calling for since Hurricane Ida caused a deadly blackout in 2021. Local utility Entergy New Orleans, which faced a class action lawsuit over the outages, will receive funding to harden its power lines in another project included in today’s announcement.

Each project is subject to Biden’s “Justice40” Initiative, which ensures that 40 percent of the benefits from federal investments go to communities “marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.” The Biden administration also says it’s pushing for “good-paying union jobs” through these projects; 86 percent of projects selected “either contain labor union partnerships or will involve collective bargaining agreements,” according to a DOE press release. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has partnerships with three out of four projects in this round of funding.

The funding announced today is just one chunk of $10.5 billion in federal funds earmarked for projects to help power grids better withstand worsening climate disasters through the DOE’s Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) Program.

To maintain a reliable electricity supply and meet global climate goals, governments and utilities need to add or replace the equivalent of virtually all the world’s power grids by 2040, according to a report published by the International Energy Agency yesterday. Investment in power grids globally has been stagnant for the past decade, the report says, and needs to double to more than $600 billion a year by the end of the decade.

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