- Lawmakers and policy experts have not given up hope that bipartisan energy legislation could be passed in the waning days of this Congress, with emphasis on the potential for cybersecurity improvements and grid investment.
- Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., says he hopes the Senate can act on the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which the House passed in September. Though the White House has threatened to veto the measure, McNerney said there is still a chance lawmakers can go to conference and find bipartisan agreement on some measures.
- Representatives from the energy sector see opportunities for infrastructure, tax credits and research and development in the upcoming 117th Congress, but due the tight balance of power, any legislation will need to be bipartisan.
Time is running out for the 116th Congress, but observers say there is still a chance to pass energy policy. The session wraps up Jan. 3, 2021.
"We're all thinking about what we can accomplish in the next week, week and a half ... and thinking about where we can start in the 117th," Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said Tuesday at the gridCONNEXT 2020 virtual conference.
Other legislative experts and lawmakers at gridCONNEXT stressed that while there is enthusiasm for a wide range of grid modernization policies, all will require work across the aisle.
Looking ahead, Jacobson said there is the potential to find bipartisan support for grid research and development, revisions to energy tax policy and updates to energy market rules. But she also said "this is a critical time, over the next couple of weeks. We've not given up hope that there can be opportunities to advance forward-looking energy policy before Congress adjourns."
Jacobson pointed to the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), which was introduced in February by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Ranking Member Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The bill includes provisions for advanced nuclear, carbon capture, long-duration storage and geothermal projects, among other items.
"My hope is that we can advance much of what has strong bipartisan support now, so that when we do come together in January we can build on that," said Jacobson.
Kathryn Steckelberg, vice president of government relations at the Edison Electric Institute, also expressed hope something could be done this year.
"We've heard a lot of support from both sides of the aisle" for research and development and clean energy policy, said Steckelberg. "We really hope Congress can wrap up an energy bill this year that would include a lot of those provisions so we don't have to start them all over again next year."
Transportation initiatives will also make for "a good starting point" next year, said Steckelberg.
Aaron Severn, senior director of federal affairs at American Wind Energy Association, said there is strong support for offshore wind development, including tax credits and workforce development measures. He is also optimistic for a potential energy storage investment tax credit, and is "generally optimistic" for transmission measures as well.
While transmission cost allocation and siting issues are challenging, "I could see [lawmakers] making some progress on improvements in transmission planning," Severn said.
Infrastructure measures are often viewed as an economic driver, said Jacobson, and "there is broad support" for bills that would invest in physical infrastructure, human capital and job creation. A COVID-19 recovery bill could also offer opportunities for strategic investment on a larger scale. But she warned that "as we get further along, definitely questions about costs have been a big factor."
Steckelberg echoed those concerns.
"Everybody loves infrastructure investment. The biggest problem is when you start talking about how much you're going to spend on it, and even more importantly how you pay for it. It's how you pay for it, where things seem to fall apart," she said. "We'd love to see an infrastructure bill get across the finish line but they always seem to get bogged down."
A major area of bipartisan interest is cybersecurity, said Rep. McNerney. In particular, he is focused on two bills passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate.
One is HR 359, the Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act, which would create a program to assess vulnerabilities, enhance training and improve data collection. Another is HR 360, the Cyber Sense Act, which would create a program to identify secure products for the bulk power system through a testing and verification program.
"It is essential we make this system as secure as possible. Cyberattacks pose serious threats," said McNerney.
There is also HR 4447, the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which passed the House in the fall and includes $3.5 billion in grants to harden the grid against climate change and improve grid resilience and security.
"My hope is that the Senate will be able to pass their package in this lame duck session, enabling us to go to conference," McNerney said.
That sentiment was shared by Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio. "We really need to work with out friends in the Senate to get these bills done," he said.
"The grid has to be upgraded," said Latta. But in a nod to cost concerns, he also noted "the amount of money that has to be invested yearly to get this done is incredible."