Susan Collins unveils $300M energy storage bill to combat climate change

As originally published in The Washington Examiner

May 22, 2019

Sen. Susan Collins introduced a bipartisan bill Wednesday to bolster energy storage, an emerging technology geared at solving renewable energy’s most persistent problem: Using it when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

The focus on energy storage fits squarely into Republicans ‘innovation agenda’ for combating climate change, promoting private sector innovation, with federal government help, as an alternative to regulation, taxes, or mandates.

“Next generation energy storage devices will help enhance the efficiency and reliability of our electric grid, reduce energy costs, and promote the adoption of renewable resources,” said Collins, R-Maine. “Our bipartisan legislation would help catalyze the development of this technology that holds great promise in the fight against climate change by supporting clean energy generation, including wind and solar.”

Collins and the other Republicans backing the bill, Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona, face tough reelection fights in purple states in 2020, with environmental issues expected to play a prominent role.

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Chris Coons, D-Del., and Angus King, I-Maine.

The Better Energy Storage Technology Act or “BEST Act” directs the Energy Department to establish a research, development, and demonstration program for grid-scale energy storage.

It authorizes $300 million over five years for the Energy Department to partner with the private sector on building at least five grid-scale energy storage demonstration projects by September 2023 that can provide power to the grid for 10 to 100 hours and operate for 20 years.

Jason Burwen, vice president of policy at the Energy Storage Association, said the goal of the bill is to prove the viability and cost-effectiveness of next-generation energy storage technologies at the demonstration level, to set the table for commercialization.

One of the biggest impediments to greater use of grid-scale energy storage is cost. The bill aims to increase the affordability of storage by directing the Energy Department to pursue a strategic plan and implement a cost target for the demonstration projects.

Backers of the bill compare its potential impact to the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiativethat decreased cost of solar power by 75%.

“A lot of folks around the industry see storage as being where solar was 10 years ago where it has a technology hump to get over,” said Brandon Audap, vice president of government relations for the conservative group Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, which supports the bill. “We have seen this work before, where solid government investment and public private partnerships could give an industry on the cusp the boost it needs to take the next step.”

Energy storage is not a power source. Rather, a battery or other energy storage resource carries excess energy that can be used when the sun sets and demand peaks later in the day.

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