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Clean energy, aging grid to get big boosts under infrastructure deal

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WASHINGTON – The nation’s aging power grid and burgeoning clean energy sector are set to get major boosts under a $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure deal reached by the Senate and the White House.

Although details of what’s in the deal are still scarce, the agreement includes $73 billion to expand clean sources of energy and the ability to move it from place to place, in what the White House calls the “single largest investment in clean energy transmission in American history.” It includes an additional $7.5 billion to build out electric vehicle charging stations across the U.S. as the nation seeks to wean itself from gas-guzzling cars and trucks.

At the same time, the deal will clear away major impediments to adopting clean energy and work to cut red tape that has complicated efforts to build sorely needed new power lines, according to a White House description of the agreement.

It’s a far cry from the eye-popping numbers President Joe Biden initially proposed in March in his American Jobs Plan, which included $100 billion for the power grid, $174 billion for electric vehicles and $46 billion for clean energy manufacturing. But Democrats are expected to shoehorn much of the spending left out of the bipartisan deal into their separate, $3.5 billion spending bill they plan to pass without Republican support.

A look at the clean energy provisions in the bipartisan deal:

New transmission lines

Two of the biggest energy challenges – resilience and emissions – both depend on a common factor: the energy grid.

The more reliably interconnected the electricity network is, the better any region can handle disruptions that affect local own power-generating abilities. This year’s electricity crisis in Texas illustrated how the state’s isolation from other power sources has left it with insufficient backup if things go wrong.

Transmission lines are also critical to widespread adoption of renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal. Fossil fuel plants like coal and natural gas can generally be built close to where the electricity will be used. But clean energy often must be transported long distances to communities from parts of the country where, for example, it’s windy or sunny.

That requires new high-voltage transmission lines – and the White House says the $73 billion investment will include building “thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines” to help expand renewable energy.

‘Grid deployment authority’

Another huge obstacle to construction new power lines is the endless red tape and finding sites where you can get permissions to build, power industry analysts say.

Unlike with interstate oil or gas pipelines, there’s no single, federal authority you can apply to for permission to build power lines. Long-distance, high-voltage lines cross multiple states, municipalities and other jurisdictions that all may require different permits – or not grant them at all.

The bipartisan deal will create a new federal entity, called a Grid Deployment Authority, to “finance and encourage the development of high-voltage transmission lines,” the White House says. Housed within the Energy Department, the authority will make use of existing public property –highways, roads and railways – to secure rights-of-way for new power lines.

Electric vehicles

The $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charger stations is the first such investment by the federal government, the Biden administration says. But it’s less than 5 percent of the amount Biden initially said was needed to meet his goal of erecting a half-million charger stations across the country.

Consumers regularly cite “range anxiety” – the fear that an electric vehicle will run out of charge before they can recharge it – as a key reason they’ve waited to go electric. The White House says the funding will be focused on deploying chargers along highways, within communities and in places that are “rural, disadvantaged and hard-to-reach.”

Other spending

The infrastructure deal also seeks to speed up development of smart grids, advanced transmission and “next-generation technologies,” although it’s not immediately clear exactly how much funding will be dedicated to those priorities or how it will be spent.

Notably, the White House singled out several technologies that would be prioritized that are generally considered “clean,” but not “renewable.” That means they produce less or no greenhouse gas emissions, but still use up a fuel that doesn’t exist in endless amounts, like the sun and wind.

Among them: Advanced nuclear reactors, as well as carbon capture, an emerging but expensive technology that seeks to capture carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal or natural gas and store it before it can enter the atmosphere. The administration also said the deal includes “clean hydrogen,” in which renewable electricity is used to create hydrogen gas that can then be burned with almost no emissions.

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Scots 'alarmed' at SNP plans for 'wild card referendum', says former Scotland Secretary

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NICOLA STURGEON’s plans to hold a second independence referendum will “alarm” Scots if she does not have the legal framework.

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'EU should learn from UK': German election favourite Scholz wanted to emulate UK strategy

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THE EU should learn from the UK’s migration strategy, German election frontrunner Olaf Scholz warned five years ago, suggesting that the fractured approaches of the trading bloc’s member states were not working.

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The GOP’s election review in Arizona is over. Its influence is just beginning, experts say.

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Arizona Republicans on Friday championed the results of their extraordinary partisan election review — which again affirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in Maricopa County — and called for similar examinations around the country.

“We need to do bigger audits on every election, just to make sure that everybody’s following the rules,” said Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, boasting about how many lawmakers from other states had visited the site of the ballot review.

Fann and state Sen. Warren Petersen, also a Republican, listened to hours of testimony from third-party contractors including Doug Logan, CEO of the lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas, as they cast doubt and suggested their work had turned up evidence of improprieties including illegal votes and deleted election files.

But experts and critics say the supposed findings confirm what they already knew: that the hired contractors were inexperienced and failed to use industry best practices, while misunderstanding and misconstruing the basics of election administration and Arizona election code. And with the proliferation of Arizona-inspired efforts spreading around the country, experts say there’s real damage being done to trust in elections.

“They’re doubling down on some of the things that have already been refuted. And just continuing to give oxygen to things that are untrue,” said Tammy Patrick, a former Maricopa County elections official who is now a senior adviser at Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that aims to improve American elections.

“They’re simply taking routine election administration processes and attempting to cast what they don’t understand as suspicious,” said Liz Howard, senior counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Contractors with Cyber Ninjas examine and recount ballots cast in the 2020 general election in Maricopa County, in Phoenix, on May 6, 2021.Matt York / Pool via AP file

Howard was appointed by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to monitor the review and spent weeks in Phoenix observing the Cyber Ninjas do their work.

“It’s unreasonable to assume that this isn’t unintentional,” she added.

Both Howard and Patrick said the auditors’ findings — which were circulated in a draft on Thursday night, before being presented in a livestreamed event on Friday — made it clear they didn’t understand basic election administration.

For example, contractors reported that there were possibly thousands of out-of-state and out-of-county voters, as well as hundreds of dead voters who cast ballots in November, numbers they calculated by comparing voter rolls with commercial data lists.

Patrick said that such data was poorly vetted, and that political groups who had used commercial mailing lists had at times ended up sending mailers out to people’s pets, because someone, for example, had once signed their cat up for a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine.

Howard agreed that commercial data was unreliable for this purpose and added that there are also valid reasons a voter would be associated with another address but still be an eligible voter in Maricopa County, like students.

Contractors also alleged that election files had been deleted, something Maricopa County tweeted they “strongly” deny, noting they have additional records but that the state Senate had never requested them.

Experts and critics say the impacts of the review, however, are just beginning.

Arizona Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, who initially backed the review but pulled his support in February over concerns for how it was progressing, said he believes it will make legislating on elections harder.

“I think now you’re going to see a hundred or two hundred election bills next year and no one is going to listen to the experts,” he told NBC News on Friday.

He added that he has spoken to voters who have either left the Republican Party or stopped voting altogether because they don’t have faith in the election.

Around the country, too, experts see the propagation of Arizona-style ballot reviews. Texas launched a “forensic audit” of four counties on Thursday night, just hours after former President Donald Trump called for it. Similar reviews are underway in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Speaking of those legislators from other states who visited the review, Patrick said: “They’re using it as justification and reasoning to promote this sort of activity in states across this country.”

Asked how he’d advise lawmakers beginning a ballot review in their states now, Boyer said he’d urge them to have bipartisan, expert-informed reviews.

“Trust the professionals. They’ve been doing it for decades. They know what they’re doing. Make sure that anybody you hire doesn’t already have their mind made up. We can’t actually call this an audit. This is a partisan investigation,” he said of the Arizona review. “Ironically, it’s going to sow even more distrust when the claim, if you can believe it, is they’re trying to create more confidence.”



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