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Rakesh  Sharma's picture
Journalist Freelance Journalist

I am a New York-based freelance journalist interested in energy markets. I write about energy policy, trading markets, and energy management topics. You can see more of my writing...

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  • Aug 6, 2021
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This sentence made me laugh. "It’s (the bipartisan infrastructure bill) a promising policy tool that “just needs another zero in that budget line,” Jenkins says. And, what a zero! A Princeton study estimates that $350 billion investment is needed to develop transmission capacity for just the next nine years. But the current bill only has provisions for investments of between $10 billion to $12 billion to erect new transmission towers and lines. I read this morning that the bill will create a $256 billion government deficit over the next decade. From the NYTImes article: 

Fiscal watchdogs have warned that lawmakers have used budgetary gimmicks to obscure the true cost, and the findings could give pause to some Republicans who are loath to raise taxes or add to deficits but have agreed to support the legislation. 

Of course, all of us know by now that the Biden administration's agenda for clean energy is way too ambitious. Even utilities are not taking it seriously. Still, the piece raises an important question from the policy perspective. How to raise funds for critical infrastructure upgrades without saddling the government with enormous debt? Private initiative can fill the gap but new projects will have few customers. The piece references DoE's $2.5 billion revolving credit facility that makes the government the first set of customers for these upgrades. But that's a drop in the ocean compared to the scale and extent of changes required.  

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 6, 2021

A Princeton study estimates that $350 billion investment is needed to develop transmission capacity for just the next nine years. But the current bill only has provisions for investments of between $10 billion to $12 billion to erect new transmission towers and lines. I read this morning that the bill will create a $256 billion government deficit over the next decade

As always, though, the context should be necessary of the cost of 'business as usual' as well-- these plans ain't being put forth in a vacuum!

Rakesh  Sharma's picture
Rakesh Sharma on Aug 7, 2021

lol

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 6, 2021

"Still, the piece raises an important question from the policy perspective. How to raise funds for critical infrastructure upgrades without saddling the government with enormous debt?"

Grid upgrades would not saddle the government with enormous debt, Rakesh. What's adding at least three of the zeroes to Princeton's cost estimate is building new transmission - thousands of miles of eminent-domain land rights, of cables and towers, to create the mythical "national grid" envisioned by renewables advocates.

Ostensibly, it will solve the problem of intermittency for solar and wind - when it's cloudy in Ohio, customers could buy solar electricity from Nevada. If you ask any competent grid engineer about its viability, however, he/she will laugh in your face, and explain why it would create infinitely more problems than it would solve. But it will create a lot of jobs - and Biden is, first and foremost, selling jobs.

Princeton's study amounts to an East Coast variant of an infamous 2017 Stanford one that suggested the U.S. could be completely powered by wind, water, and sunlight. Both are funded by oil/gas interests - Stanford's, by its Natural Gas Initiative; Princeton's, by $39 million in funding from BP and $7 million from Chevron. Would it be in the best interests of BP/Chevron to subsidize a study that a) puts them out of business, or b) guarantees natural gas a lasting role in U.S. electricity generation? You be the judge!

Rakesh  Sharma's picture
Rakesh Sharma on Aug 7, 2021

Thanks, Bob, for your comment. You are right. BP is the only sponsor of the Carbon Mitigation Institute at Princeton. If you ask any competent grid engineer about its viability, however, he/she will laugh in your face, and explain why it would create infinitely more problems than it would solve - I am curious. Why do you think it will create problems? Are they technical or design problems?

Europe is moving towards a pan-European grid and they've been trading electricity across countries for the last 20 years. It has several flaws and problems, though. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 8, 2021

"Europe is moving towards a pan-European grid and they've been trading electricity across countries for the last 20 years."

Europe's grid is nowhere near carbon-free, and never will be.

"Why do you think it will create problems? Are they technical or design problems?"

Here, Dr. Eugene Preston explains why the problems of a nationwide electricity grid are deal-breakers.

BTW, co-author of the Princeton study, Jesse Jenkins, was saying as recently as 2019 we need more than solar and wind to power the Green New Deal - that nuclear energy would be an essential part of any future carbon-free grid. Apparently that didn't go over well with BP and Chevron, however, and Princeton study Committee Chairman Stephen Pacala was obliged to omit nuclear energy from its recommendations, while introducing the weasel-phrase "net-zero":

"The National Academies’ report puts...the work of Princeton researchers at the forefront of a re-energized national conversation about converting the American energy sector to net-zero emissions by midcentury."

Translation: "We can get to kinda-zero by using less natural gas, and you know, plant more trees and stuff."
Omission of nuclear is justified by consideration of "social dimensions":

“The social dimensions are absolutely essential,” Pacala said. “At the end of the day, we have to maintain public support for a transition of the entire energy sector through three decades blah blah blah..."

Apparently, the recommendation of Princeton's Net-Zero America study is that we should allow irrational public fear to determine our path forward in preventing the largest existential threat to humankind. Beyond irresponsible, that's just f***ing stupid.

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