In this second of a two-part series, Edison sat down with Ken Irvin, co-leader of Sidley’s global Energy practice area team to discuss key highlights of the recently passed Infrastructure bill. Irvin represents clients on a variety of regulatory, enforcement, compliance, and transactional matters involving the U.S. wholesale electricity and natural gas markets, as well as with the energy transition. He has extensive experience representing clients in regulatory and investigations proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and multiple state energy regulatory agencies.
Frequently recognized as one of the leading lawyers in his field, Irvin has been included since 2012 in Chambers USA and recognized by The Legal 500 U.S. for his Energy Regulatory practice. He was recently selected by The National Law Journal for inclusion in the annual list of Energy & Environmental Trailblazers. The recognition honors individuals who have “moved the needle” and made an impact at the “crucial intersection of energy production and the environment.”
In early November, Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which makes an historic investment to tackle the climate crisis. The package will build out the first-ever national network of electric vehicle charging stations across the country, grow the U.S. supply chain around the manufacturing of solar panels and battery materials, and create millions of jobs.
The bill’s more than $65 billion investment in power infrastructure and clean energy technologies includes the largest investment in grid upgrades in American history. The funds will upgrade the nation’s power infrastructure by building thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewables and clean energy. It will also fund new programs to support the development, demonstration, and deployment of cutting-edge clean energy technologies to accelerate the transition to a zero-emission economy.
Emerging decarbonization technologies
The bill includes more than $8.5 billion to start building the machinery, pipelines, and other infrastructure necessary to capture carbon dioxide emissions, both from industrial plants and directly from the air, and bury them underground.
“Having offsets, sequestration–I think that is going to be important,” Irvin said. “Would we like to reduce that towards zero and be utterly carbon free? Yes, but I don’t know that we have in my lifetime the technology that’s going to get us towards zero. So having carbon sequestration, having purposeful and useful engagement with carbon dioxide for whatever we do is important. I’m expecting over the next few decades that we’re going to have to have carbon sequestration, carbon utilization, and carbon offsets.”
Nuclear energy advocates hailed the inclusion of funding towards next-gen nuclear as a major win, with Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, noting “the vital role nuclear energy will play in our energy transition alongside wind and solar.” Korsick lauded the federal government’s commitment to accelerating the deployment of innovative reactor technologies over the next decade, citing nuclear as a cost-effective, reliable source for large-scale, carbon-free hydrogen production.
The Department of Energy has pledged to launch a $6 billion nuclear credit program over the next several months to help keep U.S. reactors operating, fulfilling a mandate of the bill. Plant owners and operators will have to submit applications to show a need and to ensure taxpayers’ money would be well spent. The program could run for five years.
“Nuclear is carbon-free, at least in its production,” Irvin said. “It’s a remarkably reliable technology that has really made a positive contribution. The nice thing about nuclear is it’s very steady and it provides a nice base load. We do have this issue with spent nuclear fuel that we have to figure out, and we should constantly strive to improve the technology and the efficiency at which these plants operate. I’m all about renewable energy but I’m hesitant to abandon nuclear as a power source on our supply grid because it seems like it would fit in an all-of-the-above approach to supplying electricity needs.”
As part of its environmental justice component, $3.5 billion will go to the Weatherization Assistance Program, a fund that loans money to low-income households. Since its inception in the 1970s, the program has helped weatherize more than seven million homes in the U.S.
Another $550 million in block grants will go to state and local energy efficiency and conservation initiatives, while $225 million will go towards implement building codes.
“This is a huge irony and perhaps a moral dilemma that we should really solve now where the people who are less capable of affording and enjoying energy security have the least winterized homes,” Irvin said. “They are challenged to pay the utility bills and they live in housing that needs to consume more utility services than other people. That’s profoundly backwards. Winterization is not terribly sexy, but the bang for your buck is real. Improving the energy efficiency of low-income housing, helping people have meaningful relief from fuel poverty is a huge thing. That’s a part of the Infrastructure bill that I’m proud to see our country doing. If we apply ourselves to fuel poverty and to winterization issues, we’ll get such big savings that everybody will be lifted up by it.”
Click here to read the first part of our conversation with Ken Irvin.
Explore additional conversations with leading experts from across the industry in our Visionary Voices: Perspectives in Energy Series.