The U.S. Energy Dept. on April 27 made $8.25 billion in federal loans available to upgrade and expand the country's electric grid to increase its capacity to move electricity from renewable sources of power and make the grid more resilient. The program includes $3.25 billion for western states and $2 billion earmarked for tribal lands.

The loan guarantees are available through two DOE programs that finance innovative transmission projects at commercial scale using first deployments of a new technologies. To be eligible, innovative projects also must avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse or air pollutant emissions. Tribal loans are available to wholly or majority owned federal recognized tribes or Alaska Native corporations.

With energy markets and politics pushing change, states, regional power system operators and companies are making new moves to boost the U.S. transmission capacity needed to integrate a growing backlog of renewable power projects into the grid and move power to high-demand areas.

The projects under the new loan programs include high voltage direct current systems, transmission to connect offshore wind and projects sited along railroads and highways. The U.S. Transportation Dept. on April 27 issued guidelines for state agencies to use rights-of-way for renewable energy generation, electrical transmission and distribution projects, broadband projects, wireless charging in travel lanes and electric vehicle charging stations.

Including funds left over from previous administrations, the DOE loan programs have more than $40 billion available, including about $18 billion for advanced automotive technologies.

The Western Area Power Administration will receive $3.5 billion to expand its transmission grid, which transports power from 57 hydroelectric plants to customers in 15 states.

“These investments will make our power system more resilient against threats and more reliable as we increase our clean energy capacity,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

The administration noted a new report by the non-profit Americans for Clean Energy Grid that listed 22 eligible high-voltage transmission projects valued at $33 billion that are poised to move to construction and could create about 240,000 direct jobs and "interconnect around 60,000 MW of new renewable capacity," the group said.

But the group contends that with current transmission sector challenges, half of the projects won't proceed to construction "in the near term." It calls on the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) to use its authority to "break transmission planning and cost allocation logjams that prevent large regional and interregional lines from being built," and advocates new legislation to assist in that effort. The group also noted needed for streamlined permitting between state and federal regulators.

James Slevin, president of the Utility Workers of America and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were among those named Apri 27 to a power sector industry group's new grid infrastructure advisory council fo define the most needed grid investments.

The GridWise Alliance, a group of electric grid owners and sector participants, has called for $50 billion in federal spending to modernize the country’s power systems.

The new council "will be a vital asset as we work to build support in Congress and throughout the country for grid modernization and for President Biden's ambitious and potentially historic infrastructure plan," said Gil Quiniones, its board chair and president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, the largest state-owned electric utility in the U.S. 

Other members include CEOs of Portland General Electric, Exelon Utilities, GE Digital, Con Edison, Smart Electric Power Alliance, Electric Power Resarch Institute and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and executives of technology firms, environmental groups and other entities.