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Whatever your energy source preference, local support is the only way to get it built

FILE – Employees of NY State Solar, a residential and commercial photovoltaic systems company, install an array of solar panels on a roof, Aug. 11, 2022, in the Long Island hamlet of Massapequa, N.Y. Massive incentives for clean energy in the U.S. law signed Tuesday, Aug. 16, by President Joe Biden should reduce future global warming “not a lot, but not insignificantly either,” according to a climate scientist who led an independent analysis of the climate package. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

By affixing his signature to the Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden kicked off a green energy gold rush as companies will look to take advantage of the many tax subsidies and benefits for clean energy development. 

Meanwhile, as part of the new laws legislative negotiations, Senate Democrats ostensibly agreed to advance a permitting reform bill touted by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that would speed the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects of all kinds, including fossil fuel projects like pipelines. 

So, on the surface it would seem that we are making progress toward the development of all-important energy infrastructure. And it couldn’t come at a better time, as global events remind us that leveraging a diverse set of domestic energy resources is the best way to provide affordability and reliability to consumers. 

However, as we repeatedly see, the development of new and the completion of existing projects aimed at delivering those benefits are often snarled in regulatory and legal delays. The Vineyard Wind offshore wind project had to push its in-service date back to 2023 after redundant federal reviews slowed the timeline for the project, which started in 2018. Likewise, natural gas pipelines and new on-shore and off-shore oil and gas exploration projects take several years to bring to fruition. 

The court challenges, typically initiated by local environmental activists, sometimes last just as long. The Enbridge Line 5 project in Michigan has been bantered back and forth between state and federal courts for the past three years. 

All of these delays add costs to already expensive undertakings. In some cases, the companies pull out altogether, leaving consumers in the projected service area with reduced energy access. All the while, energy demand is increasing.  

But all of these projects, whether they be wind farms or pipelines, share two things in common. 

First, even in a deeply polarized climate, they have the backing of bipartisan state and federal policymakers who have studied their value and energy reliability potential and the support of business-focused organizations that see their job and general economic development growth possibilities. 

Next, and most importantly, it is almost always local entities operating outside of traditional political and policy channels that oppose and, ultimately, defeat them. These groups are well-funded, they are well-organized, and they get ample media attention. They are passionate champions of their cause. 

This second point is the most important because it highlights why companies and developers themselves are always taken by surprise and slow to respond to these local threats. In their view, the project has the support of “the people” in the form of elected representatives and the business class through chambers of commerce. But as it turns out, there is a difference between these official entities and actual people. 

In most cases, there are no local citizen voices willing to stand up and say: Yes, build that pipeline because I want energy security for my family.

The companies say it, their trade association, if they have one, says it. You might even get a local elected official to go on-record and support a specific project. But sadly, most of these projects lack any significant grassroots support. 

This is what needs to change if we are going to realize the vast opportunities for energy infrastructure development presented by the IRA and the prospect of federal permitting reform. Companies and trade associations need to be thinking much more locally about their approach to communications and engagement. News outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Huffington Post are predicting that the future of energy development will be decided at the local level. 

The good news is that poll after poll after poll show that people support more domestic energy production as a means to bring down costs and meet emissions reductions goals here at home and support allies abroad. But these voices are not being heard when local decisions are being made about the actual projects. That void is instead being filled by those activist groups that do not support the development of any energy projects. 

The path forward is clear. Whether you support the development of advanced nuclear, new oil and gas refineries or pipelines, solar and wind developments or geothermal, you must build support locally and bring the voice of the energy consumer to the table.   

Greg Lemon is the executive director of US Energy NOW, an advocacy organization dedicated to advancing American energy infrastructure. He was previously a speech and opinion writer for former Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.

Tags Climate change Fossil fuels Inflation Reduction Act Joe Biden Joe Manchin pipelines Renewable energy

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