Manchin’s Newest Bill Won’t Make The Road To Green Energy Utopia Any Easier
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is once again mounting his effort to build a bipartisan critical mass of support to enact reforms to various federal permitting processes. The bill, titled the “Building American Energy Security Act of 2023,” is for the most part a carbon copy of Manchin’s proposed legislation that failed to pass last September and again in December.
Believing the third time could be the charm, Manchin was quoted by E&E News as saying, “There is overwhelming bipartisan recognition that our current permitting processes aren’t working, and equally bipartisan support for addressing it through comprehensive permitting reform legislation. I am confident that we will find a path forward.”
But the politics don’t really seem to set up well for this issue for a variety of reasons that are little changed from last fall. Not that the reforms aren’t needed — they certainly are, if the country is to succeed in the much-promoted “energy transition” on anything close to the aggressive timelines envisioned by the Biden government. Incessant, numerous delays are a feature, not a glitch, in the current system for all manner of energy-related projects, whether they be for wind, solar, oil & gas, nuclear or transmission infrastructure.
A great example is the TransWest Wind Transmission Project, which finally received its needed federal permits in April after 15 years of trying. Now that it has its permits, rights-of-way and financing in place, this 732-mile project designed to move 3,000 megawatts of electricity generated by wind farms in Wyoming to market centers in California will take another 5 years to construct before a single kilowatt of electricity will flow through its lines.
Yet, the Biden administration is pursuing a plan to somehow subsidize a transition into being that would see an elimination of natural gas appliances, electrify millions of buildings and force 2/3rds of automobiles to be in the form of electric vehicles within a decade, moves that would require at least a doubling of current generation capacity on the grid. The Biden agenda also requires that almost all of that added capacity will have to come in the form of new wind and solar installations.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently calculated that requiring the U.S. grid to generate 90% of its power through wind and solar would require the building of 240,000 miles of new transmission lines, or 328 times the length of the TransWest Project with its 20-year timeline. Are you seeing the problem here yet?
But that’s not all, not even close. Even in the extremely unlikely scenario in which it were to become possible to permit the projects, condemn the millions of acres of land required for the rights of way (a reality few are even talking about at this point) and somehow obtain the trillions of dollars in financing for 240,000 miles of new transmission lines, there is the increasingly problematic reality that the projects would require millions of new transformers and other critical hardware to be able to go into service.
The issue there is a severe and growing shortage of transformers and expanding time frames in their supply chains. As is the case with so many things, the United States no longer manufactures electric transformers domestically — they must be imported from overseas, with a high percentage of the supply chains running through China.
“Across the board, our members are experiencing severe supply chain constraints. We’re not able to get distribution transformers, and we’ve been sounding the alarm with the federal government because hurricane season is around the corner,” Adrienne Lotto, senior vice president of Grid Security at the American Public Power Association, told me in a recent interview.
Todd Snitchler, president of the Electric Power Supply Association, echoed Lotto’s concerns in another discussion. “The timelines I have heard for the smaller transformers are up to two years, and for the large transformers that can be up to five years,” he said.
All these timing and supply chain considerations layer atop the stark reality that most permitting delays relate to environmental protections that are supported by the same climate change activist groups that serve as boosters for the energy transition itself.
So, while permitting reform is needed, anyone who thinks it will be easy to achieve or serve as some sort of magic bullet to speed up the energy transition is in for a very rude awakening.
David Blackmon is an energy writer and consultant based in Texas. He spent 40 years in the oil and gas business, where he specialized in public policy and communications.
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