The renewable energy industry caught the attention of President Donald Trump's transition team as it laid the groundwork for what is expected to be a big push on infrastructure spending by the new administration.
A document published Jan. 24 by the McClatchy news service identifying Trump's "priority" emergency and national security projects included a huge wind farm in Wyoming and three transmission lines that are being built to move renewable energy. While the Trump administration said the list is not an official White House document, it is "almost identical" to a spreadsheet the president's team gave to the National Governors Association in December 2016, McClatchy reported.
The fact that projects related to renewable energy development were included on the list is significant in light of industry concerns that Trump might derail growth by pulling back on efforts to fight climate change or by pushing Congress to cut off clean energy incentives.
"It is appropriate for the federal government to consider these wind and transmission projects as national infrastructure priorities to complete," said Kara Choquette, director of communications for Power Company of Wyoming and TransWest Express LLC, which are building the 3,000-MW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in Wyoming and the TransWest Express transmission line from Wyoming to southern Nevada. "We are very confident that these projects can advance under this Administration, which recognizes the value of large infrastructure development," Choquette said in a Jan. 25 email.
The list also included Clean Line Energy Partners' 720-mile Plains & Eastern transmission line, which will ship power generated by wind farms in Oklahoma to markets in the southeastern U.S., and Blackstone Group LP's 336-mile Champlain Hudson Power Express, a transmission line that will move power from the Canadian border to New York City.
"It's not surprising to me that there'd be folks within the administration that have seen our project," said Mario Hurtado, executive vice president of development at Clean Line Energy Partners. "What we've heard … is that the administration was interested in getting big things done that would really create a lot of American jobs, create a lot of demand for steel and cement, and get big things built that are going to have value to the country long term."
The Plains & Eastern line is the anchor project for a new plant that transmission line technology manufacturer Sediver is building in Arkansas, Hurtado said. "They're there largely because we asked them to locate that factory in Arkansas so that we could purchase just as much as we could from that state where the project's going to be located."
The Trump team's infrastructure document describes a public-private initiative, with investment totaling $137.5 billion. The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm as well as the TransWest Express and Plains & Eastern transmission lines are being funded with private capital and have secured the major permits they need, the companies said.
"It's always beneficial to have the top leadership take notice of a project and set the policy direction, and I think that's what the Trump administration is doing," Hurtado said on Jan. 25. "They're leaning forward pretty hard and saying, 'Hey, there are lot of good projects in this country, we need to move forward and get stuff built.'"
The Champlain Hudson line, which would run largely underwater and underground, is 85% permitted and fully funded with private capital, according to the Trump team's document. The project developer, Transmission Developers Inc., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Jan. 25.
Transmission Developers and the Champlain Hudson project were bought in 2010 by The Blackstone Group, whose chairman and CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, is chairman of Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum.
The projects that are being built by Power Co. of Wyoming and TransWest Express and are backed by The Anschutz Corp., whose chairman and CEO, Philip Anschutz, along with his wife, Nancy Anschutz, are big Republican donors. They gave more than $1 million to Republican candidates, parties and traditional political action committees in 2016, ranking the couple 68th on Open Secrets' list of the 100 largest family donors of hard money.
The Trump team also identified "energy storage and grid modernization" as an investment priority.
The Energy Storage Association, a trade group, discussed the benefits of energy storage with Trump's transition team but did not contribute to the document, the group's executive director, Matt Roberts, said.
"Energy storage is an enabling technology," Roberts said. "It allows you to optimize all energy, not just renewables."
Janice Lin, executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance, said there should be opportunities for California to team up with the federal government to "find the right amount of storage to prepare for the next disaster." She noted a methane leak at Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility that prompted state regulators to allow Edison International subsidiary Southern California Edison Co. to quickly procure energy storage resources to mitigate the risk of blackouts. Southern California Gas Co. is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy.
Hydropower was also mentioned by Trump's team. The document identified $4 billion in potential upgrades at existing hydropower plants owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, such as the replacement of old turbines. The Corps' hydroelectric plants operate at 80% efficiency, below an industry average of 99%, meaning "billions of dollars of revenue are being wasted," the document said.
Performance enhancements at existing federal facilities are the "low-hanging fruit of growth in the hydropower industry," National Hydropower Association Deputy Executive Director Jeff Leahey said.