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Oct 16, 2017

Sentor Martin Heinrich Pushing for Expanded Energy Infrastructure

Courtesy of the office U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich 

A bill designed to increase investment in energy storage systems, which are essential to a more efficient and cost-effective national electrical grid, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Martin Heinrich.

The Advancing Grid Storage Act, which the New Mexico senator is sponsoring with Minnesota Democrat Senate Al Franken, would authorize spending $50 million annually on dedicated funding for energy storage systems via the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

It would also establish a $500 million, five-year, technical assistance program to help both for-profit and nonprofit groups break through permitting and interconnection problems, ultimately helping them to perform the required engineering.

Additionally, the Heinrich-Franken legislation sets up a five-year $500 million competitive grant program to assist states, tribes, utilities, and universities with their energy storage system upfront capital costs.

“Energy storage is the key to improving our electric grid,” says Heinrich, who was elected to the Senate in 2012, after serving as a member of the House of Representatives and, before that, the Albuquerque City Council.

“Advanced storage technologies help match the energy demands of consumers and businesses in a cost-effective manner with minimal waste, and strengthen the existing electricity transmission and distribution system,” the 45 year-old Heinrich continues.

As one of the authors of the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act, which is designed to set up tax credits for the business and home use of energy storage, Heinrich argues that “more widespread use of energy storage will keep the lights on during severe storms, supply shortages and power interruptions, and help consumers avoid high utility rates by offsetting the need to generate new electricity during peak demand.”

Heinrich’s advancing grid legislation has already won the endorsement of the Washington-based Energy Storage Association, which represents energy storage technology companies.

Senator Heinrich touring the San Juan College School of Energy construction site in Farmington.  Courtesy of the office U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich 

In a statement, Kelly Speakes-Backman, chief executive officer of the association, said that the bill, if passed, will provide “assistance to state and local governments, smaller utilities, public power districts, and rural cooperatives who seek to modernize their electric infrastructure with energy storage systems.”

Noting that energy storage additionally helps integrate into local communities renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, Heinrich says “Continued research and development on storage materials, electrochemical systems, and power conversion technologies will be crucial to drive down the cost of energy storage technologies and make them accessible to consumers.”

The $50 million dedicated funding figure, notes Heinrich - who last year USA Today described as a “rising Senate star who has expertise on labor and environmental issues” - was chosen as a “reasonable set aside” from Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency annual 2017 budget of some $306 million.

Although the legislation’s chances of passage during the current 115th Congressional session are unclear, Heinrich maintains that, if successful, the measure can only be good for New Mexico.

“Widescale deployment of energy storage is the next major step that will move us toward the energy production and distribution of tomorrow, and it can bring thousands of new jobs to places like New Mexico,” he says.

The Senator additionally notes that decades of research and development at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and the Los Alamos National Laboratories just outside of Santa Fe have culminated in what he calls “the emergence of innovative storage technologies that are now being brought to market at both the utility scale and behind the meter for business and residential customers.”

Noting that energy storage is the wave of the future, Heinrich points to a rule adopted in August by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission requiring “each electric utility company to consider energy storage among all other available options in plans to meet consumer’s future energy requirements.”

Heinrich, who was mentioned in 2016 as a possible vice-presidential candidate, and is now being touted in some quarters as a candidate for president in 2020, says: “Energy storage will play an increasingly important role in the way we manage energy generation and distribution.”

“As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee,” Heinrich adds, “I’m working to integrate energy storage into the grid as part of a larger effort to make grid modernization and energy policy a bipartisan cause.”

 

By Garry Boulard

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