Distributed Energy Resources

Energy innovation is a bipartisan bright spot in Congress

In politics, buzzwords often take on lives of their own. Even the most casual observer can’t avoid hearing phrases like “the establishment” or “both sides of the aisle,” and it is no different in energy policy, with phrases like “green energy,” “all-of-the-above strategy,” or “energy innovation” feeling almost inescapable.

However, whether members of Congress are looking for ways to reduce emissions and address climate change, or to support economic recovery and create jobs, it is clear that “energy innovation” is more than just a popular buzzword — it’s an area of major bipartisan, bicameral agreement that will shape policy for years to come.

While partisan disagreements persist, energy innovation continues to be a bright spot of bipartisanship. Recent examples include the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advancing a bipartisan transportation bill in August 2019 that included federal grants for electric vehicle chargers, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, respectively, introducing the American Energy Innovation Act in March 2020. The legislation, which combined more than 50 energy-related bills into one large package, would reauthorize Department of Energy research programs on wind, solar, and geothermal energy; bolster federal support for energy efficiency; and create grant programs for energy storage, grid modernization, and workforce development for the next generation of energy jobs. 

When the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives developed a far-reaching and comprehensive infrastructure bill, the Moving Forward Act, energy innovation was front and center. The legislation, which passed the House in July 2020, includes a grant program for electric vehicle charging infrastructure; a federal demonstration project for energy storage; and grants to improve the resilience, performance, and efficiency of the electric grid. Should these provisions become law, public power utilities would be eligible to apply for all of these energy innovation opportunities.

Another major energy innovation, advanced nuclear, continues to enjoy bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. Among other provisions, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act authorizes the federal government to enter into long-term power purchase agreements for advanced nuclear projects and directs the DOE to develop a fast neutron-capable research facility to test next-generation reactor fuels. As of this writing, the act has more than 20 co-sponsors — Republicans and Democrats — in both the House and Senate. In June 2020, a group of senators joined together to push for the inclusion of some provisions of the NELA in must-pass defense legislation.

Regardless of which political party or region of the country they call home, our elected officials are seeing the transformative power of new, innovative energy technology and will continue to look to energy innovation as a way to tackle the big challenges, like the environment and the economy, that they were elected to address.

In August 2020, we joined with 37 other groups, including other trade associations and environmental advocates, in a letter asking House leadership to move legislation related to energy innovation and technologies onto their fall agenda.

APPA will continue to be the voice for public power in the discussions and debates about advancing energy technologies. When it comes to energy innovation, our focus remains on advocating for smart, nuanced federal policy that will truly benefit public power utilities and, in so doing, the communities and customers they serve.