With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, Edison Electric Institute, the trade group representing investor-owned electric utilities, plans to advocate for policies that support the industry's transition to cleaner energy and recognize the vital importance of infrastructure investment.
"As always, our North Star is serving our customers and we will continue to center our efforts on three main pillars: maintaining the steady and strong transition to clean energy; modernizing the energy grid to make it more dynamic, more resilient and more secure; and developing the innovative solutions our customers expect and deserve," EEI President Thomas Kuhn said during a Feb. 10 virtual presentation.
Kuhn and other EEI leaders noted that the electric industry is "the most capital-intensive industry in America," racking up nearly $140 billion in capital expenses in 2020. Nearly 50% of these investments were focused on transmission and distribution.
"The transmission system is key to integrating more renewables and more clean energy into the energy grid affordably and reliably," Kuhn added in the annual Wall Street briefing.
EEI leaders largely applauded the Biden administration's climate and energy policy goals, which include a $2 trillion clean energy and green infrastructure plan.
"To achieve our clean energy goals in the fastest and most cost-efficient manner while also protecting and helping to facilitate the development of this critical infrastructure, there are critical areas that the administration can focus on to make progress," said Philip Moeller, executive vice president of the business operations group and regulatory affairs at EEI. "First, we need to take a more holistic view of transmission system needs and we need to work to improve policies and processes to evaluate and promote the development of cost-effective interregional, multiregional or cross-connection transmission facilities."
Moeller, a former commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said FERC is "long overdue in finalizing a proposed rule on reassessing transmission incentives."
"Given the time needed to build new transmission infrastructure, it is imperative to move quickly to take stock of where we are, what is working, what is not, and what the needs are of each respective region throughout the country," Moeller said.
"In addition to our focus on transmission at FERC, EEI will continue to advocate for wholesale electricity market reforms, as well as rate and regulatory reforms," he added.
Moeller pointed out that new FERC Chairman Richard Glick has "made it clear that transmission reform is a high priority."
"We're not exactly sure how that will play out but at least it's good that he's focused on that," Moeller said.
Carbon-free power sector
Biden also wants to achieve economywide net-zero emissions by 2050 and aims to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035.
"To get to net-zero by 2035 would be an incredibly difficult situation to handle for most of the companies in the industry," Kuhn said. "I think that we are in a situation right now where again ... we have done some tremendous reductions in carbon emissions and we will continue to do that at a great pace. There [are] situations where we have to worry about the reliability and affordability of the system."
"We are going to have to, on the reliability side, make sure that we have the stability that can bring on additional renewables," he added.
Brian Wolff, executive vice president for public policy and external affairs at EEI, pointed out that "almost 40% of all of the electricity in this nation comes from carbon-free resources."
"Carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector are already at their lowest in almost 30 years and they continue to fall," Wolff said, adding "we really need to lean in and accelerate those efforts and now is the time to do it."
"With the right policies and the right technologies, a 100% clean energy future, it's not really just a goal for us anymore," Wolff said. "It's really a reality for all of us and a reality I think that all of us really embrace."
EEI leaders, however, pointed out that nuclear and natural gas will need to be part of the picture in order for the sector to achieve and "accelerate" clean energy deployment.
"I think it's important for us to lead on clean energy in a way that gives us all of the options," Wolff said.
It's also important to "pick up the pace" on technology to reduce carbon emissions, he added.
"It takes time to successfully develop, test and integrate the new technologies we know that we'll need to eliminate that last 10[%] and 20% of emissions," Wolff said. "We need to start now."
EEI in 2020 partnered with environmental and energy policy groups on a carbon-free technology initiative. The initiative is advocating for federal policy that enables advanced, dispatchable renewables; zero-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen; advanced nuclear energy; carbon capture and sequestration; and long-duration energy storage.
"The federal policy will be a catalyst of the innovation that we need to achieve our ambitious goals," Wolff said. "It's critical that Congress appropriate money toward the further development and research and demonstration and deployment of new, affordable 24/7 carbon-free technologies."
EEI also is pushing for the electrification in the industrial and transportation sectors.
"Our position is and always has been that we need to take an economywide approach to addressing climate change," Wolff said.