Clean-Energy Requires More Transmission Lines Which Requires More Use of Eminent Domain to Seize Private Property

(p. B12) President Biden’s infrastructure plan proposes some tried-and-trusted methods to spur clean-energy development such as a 10-year extension of existing tax credits for solar and wind energy. More interestingly, it introduces an investment tax credit for high-voltage transmission lines.

. . .

The administration is certainly looking in the right direction: To reach President Biden’s net-zero emissions goal by 2050, the U.S. will need to expand electricity transmission systems by 60% by 2030 and may need to triple it by 2050, according to research published by Princeton University in December [2020]. That is because renewable energy-rich places such as the windiest regions aren’t necessarily close to population centers, where electricity demand is.

While the clean-energy industry probably won’t complain about a new subsidy, the tax-credit proposal is a bit of a head scratcher given that the real roadblocks to transmission lines have to do with permitting, much of which is in the hands of state and local authorities.

A shift toward e-commerce should push up productivity by eliminating workers needed in bricks-and-mortar stores, Mr. Gordon said. Videoconferencing should also help, though the public-transit sector could offset some of the gains because buses and rail transit will carry fewer riders, he said.

“For most transmission we need in the country, it’s not a cost issue or an access-to-capital issue, although transmission can be delayed because of cost allocation debates,” said George Bilicic, global head of power, energy and infrastructure at Lazard.

. . .

The proposed plan also calls for a so-called Grid Deployment Authority within the Energy Department to “better leverage existing rights of way” along roads and railways. That would be a good first step, though eminent domain—the power of the government to take private property and convert it for public use—remains largely within state regulators’ hands. While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authority to grant natural-gas pipelines the right of eminent domain under the Natural Gas Act, there is no equivalent authority for electricity transmission under the Federal Power Act and little momentum in Congress to grant that provision.

For the full commentary, see:

Jinjoo Lee. “Productivity Looks Ready to Pick Up.” The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, April 6, 2021): B12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 4, 2021, and has the title “Biden’s Grid Proposal May Be a Square Peg in a Round Hole.”)

The Princeton research mentioned above is:

Larson, Eric, Chris Greig, Jesse Jenkins, Erin Mayfield, Andrew Pascale, Chuan Zhang, Joshua Drossman, Robert Williams, Steve Pacala, Robert Socolowi, Ejeong Baik, Rich Birdsey, Rick Duke, Ryan Jones, Ben Haley, Emily Leslie, Keith Paustian, and Amy Swan. “Net-Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure, and Impacts, Interim Report.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, Dec. 15, 2020.

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