Heinrich Lays Out New Ways To Build A More Resilient 21st Century Electric Grid, Announces Plans For Transmission Investment Tax Credit Legislation

Sen. Heinrich headlines International Summit on the Electric Transmission Grid, unveils new ways to build a more resilient and reliable 21st century electric grid

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 24, 2019) – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, delivered the keynote address at the International Summit on the Electric Transmission Grid. At the event, held at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., Senator Heinrich announced plans to introduce legislation to create an investment tax credit for regionally significant transmission projects.

"There is a disconnect right now between transmission access and the best large-scale clean energy resources. Full utilization of our renewable potential will only be possible when we have the transmission capacity in place to deliver that power to market," said Heinrich. "Tax incentives have proven to be a major signal to investors to put their capital behind wind and solar. We should encourage the same type of growth for the infrastructure that will deliver the power from these resources to market."

Senator Heinrich also announced that he will soon be introducing legislation to direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to improve its inter-regional transmission planning process.

"It’s clear that FERC’s Order 1000 is not working as well as was intended. Although Order 1000 requires neighboring transmission planning regions to coordinate planning, it does not require a joint process or full evaluation of interregional solutions and their benefits. My legislation will require FERC to initiate a formal rulemaking that will help meet Order 1000’s goals," said Heinrich.

Senator Heinrich has been a champion for building a more secure and robust 21st century energy infrastructure, which is critical to realizing the nation's true clean energy potential and creating jobs. His efforts to secure multi-year extensions of production and investment tax credits have spurred major growth in the wind and solar industries in New Mexico.

Senator Heinrich's remarks at the International Summit on the Electric Transmission Grid as prepared for delivery are below:

Good evening.

It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the International Summit on the Electric Transmission Grid.

Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts on how we can work together to build a more resilient and reliable 21st century electric grid.

Some of you may know that my dad was an IBEW lineman.

And I still remember hanging around his office after school drawing pictures of Ready Kilowatt.

And when the thunderstorms hit, I’d watch him leave to go climb power poles in the middle of the storm so that the lights could be restored to our neighbors.

These days, there are still linemen like my dad climbing power poles all across our country.

But you can already see that the grid of the future won’t be the same one-way street from central generation facilities to homes and businesses that it was when my dad was a utility lineman.

Competitive prices and customer demand for renewables are quickly changing the game.

Linemen like my dad have been joined by wind technicians climbing up giant turbines and solar installers building utility-scale solar plants and maintaining rooftop panels.

Clean energy, storage, and digital distributed resources are the new energy landscape.

And we’ve already seen some cases where non-wires alternatives have supplanted traditional infrastructure investments.

There is also more widespread adoption of concepts like energy efficiency and demand response.

And there has been more deployment of on-site rooftop solar systems, battery and thermal energy storage, and utility-side active management and load control.  

As a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I am focused on advancing legislation to promote the development and deployment of these clean energy technologies. 

It is past time to incentivize energy storage, electric vehicles, and other technologies that will help us remove the carbon pollution from our grid. And the federal government needs to continue to provide investors with long-term certainty by setting incentive and tax structures that are multi-year and predictable.

Year by year extensions of structures like the ITC and PTC should be a thing of the past.  

However, one of the most important things we need to do is build new transmission to connect centers of supply and demand in this new era.

There is a disconnect right now between transmission access and the best large-scale clean energy resources.

Full utilization of our renewable potential will only be possible when we have the transmission capacity in place to deliver that power to market.

We need to connect the highest density areas of renewable energy to the highest density energy markets.

And we need to do this without delay.

Despite all the progress we have made in the last decade in clean energy generation technology and changes in consumer demands, we are simply not moving fast enough to site new transmission lines.

The landscape shift we are witnessing requires the construction of transmission infrastructure on a scale that we haven’t seen in several generations.

That begs some difficult questions.

Is America capable of taking on this challenge?

What do we need to do to make it possible for America to do big things again?

The building of the current American electric grid was one of the largest technical achievements in human history.

The transmission infrastructure of the 21st century is a prerequisite for the energy grid of the future.

Building it won’t be easy.

We have many obstacles standing in the way.

In my view, the biggest obstacles to new transmission lines have been policies and permitting regulations—especially at the state and local levels—that are not keeping up with what is possible and what is required of us in this major energy transition.

Decision makers at both the federal and state levels need to realize the benefits of widespread deployment of clean energy production and transmission.

Private capital is available and ready right now to invest in these projects.

But it is not as simple as looking at resource maps and drawing lines from high potential renewable production sites to major energy markets.

As I work to encourage new transmission proposals in New Mexico, I have learned how important it is to manage and build political will as well as building trust through long-term relationships.

That means education and persuasion at the state and local levels—where clean energy transmission lines and large-scale clean energy generation projects often get off track.

When you are proposing a major new transmission project, you must do the proactive outreach to educate local political leaders and utility regulators about what’s at stake.

You need to share the benefits along the route.

And you need to win support from governors and congressional delegations.

Often there is substantial disinformation that also needs to be dispelled.

For example, I can think of one prominent person who keeps telling people that wind turbines cause cancer.

But in most cases, people are just skeptical of change to the status quo and need to learn why this is important and what the benefits are.

We all need to do the hard work of demonstrating why new generation, storage, and transmission projects are worthwhile.

Yes, this is absolutely about meeting our moral obligation to confront the existential crisis that is climate change.

But these projects and modern electric transmission infrastructure projects are smart investments in high-quality careers.

These are winning issues.

We’ve seen this firsthand in New Mexico.

In recent years, New Mexico has led the nation in new wind energy capacity.

And we are training our workforce for clean energy careers.

I’ve had the pleasure of climbing up to the top of the turbine at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, New Mexico, where they are training students for high-paying wind technician careers.

We have many rural communities who are starting to see the major economic benefits of building new clean energy generation.

We are seeing schools near our new wind facilities that have lost enrollment for decades actually adding desks again.

And we are seeing companies like Facebook choose to build major new facilities in New Mexico because they can get their power entirely from clean energy sources.

And this is just the beginning.  

Earlier this year, our Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a law setting New Mexico on a path toward 100 percent carbon-free electrical generation by 2045.

And PNM, our largest utility, announced in April that they have a plan to get there five years earlier, in 2040.  

PNM has also agreed to purchase Western Spirit – originally a Clean Line transmission project – that was just greenlighted by our state’s Public Regulation Commission.

This 165-mile project will connect more than 800 megawatts of future wind capacity in New Mexico to western markets.

Half of this wind capacity already has power-purchase agreements in place.

I’m especially proud that Western Spirit partnered with New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority—a state-backed authority that works with developers to site transmission lines.

That’s right.

Our state is actively trying to make it easier to develop critical energy infrastructure.

We need to get all of our states on board with these types of forward-looking policies.

And we need to start making planning decisions on transmission at the regional level.

That’s why I am proud to announce that I will soon be introducing legislation to direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to improve its inter-regional transmission planning process.

It’s clear that FERC’s Order 1000 is not working as well as was intended.

Although Order 1000 requires neighboring transmission planning regions to coordinate planning, it does not require a joint process or full evaluation of interregional solutions and their benefits.

My legislation will require FERC to initiate a formal rulemaking that will help meet Order 1000’s goals.  

And finally, I want to let you know that I am also thinking through legislation to create an investment tax credit for regionally significant transmission projects.

Tax incentives have proven to be a major signal to investors to put their capital behind wind and solar.

We should encourage the same type of growth for the infrastructure that will deliver the power from these resources to market.

I hope that some of you will engage with me on these bills and the overall effort to finally create a workable strategy to support inter-regional planning and siting decisions.

And, once again, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to stay engaged with your elected leaders here in Washington and in your local communities.

Because we can’t wait any longer on costly delays in the planning and siting of the energy infrastructure of the future.

Consumers don’t want to wait any longer for wide-scale deployment of clean, reliable, and cost-effective energy.

I am a strong believer that innovation is what America does best.  

I hope all of you here will join me as we continue fighting to put that innovative spirit to work.

Let’s work together to build a clean, reliable, and affordable energy future