Dozens of companies, associations and organizations said they are lobbying for energy storage technology incentives, including increased research funding and tax credits.
The broad lobbying on the issue – including from renewable energy companies, utilities and public health groups – is a sign of the growing coalition that is forming in support of the nascent technology and seeking government help for it. The legislative proposals are not all new, but momentum for them both on and off Capitol Hill is picking up.
Groups and companies like the American Wind Energy Association, the Solar Energy Industries Association, Tesla Inc., Duke Energy Corp., the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association told Congress in their disclosure forms covering July through September, which were due this week, that they advocated on pro-storage policies.
The bills at issue include the bipartisan “Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act” from Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), which would provide for an investment tax credit (ITC) for energy storage systems.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ “Better Energy Storage Technology Act,” a bipartisan measure to boost research and development funding for storage, is also getting significant attention, as are a handful of other measures.
Proponents say new policies are needed to level the playing field for storage, which can serve numerous purposes, like helping wind and solar and increasing resilience of the grid.
“We have been working to build a broad coalition to support our efforts on energy storage. To be honest, it’s not that hard to get behind the ITC bill and the ‘BEST Act,’ as well,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association, the main group pushing the legislation.
“Storage is central to modernizing the grid,” she said. “Whether you’re interested in modernizing the grid for inclusion of more wind and solar, or you want efficiency, or you’re developing projects that are going to interact with wholesale markets, it’s easy to support energy storage.”
The American Wind Energy Association is another main backer of pro-storage legislation.
“Passing an ITC for stand-alone energy storage systems will expand the number of storage projects eligible for the tax credit and benefit energy technologies across the board while enhancing grid resilience,” Aaron Severn, senior director of federal affairs at the wind group, said in a statement.
“Enacting a stand-alone storage ITC along with achieving parity between energy technologies by expanding the Section 48 tax credit to include wind and storage will speed up the development of America’s clean energy resources,” he said.
‘Truly bear fruit’
The Solar Energy Industries Association sees the tax credit proposal as a key step toward its goal of getting 20% of the nation’s electricity from solar power by 2030.
“Expanding the Investment Tax Credit to include storage is an important step, but that policy will only truly bear fruit with regard to carbon reductions if it is also paired with a long-term extension of the solar ITC,” said Erin Duncan, the group’s vice president of congressional affairs.
Energy storage was long limited to hydropower plants that could use power during off-peak hours to pump water in reverse, in order to generate more when it is needed most.
But in recent years, attention has grown significantly on utility-scale battery storage and other technologies as ways to balance the needs of the electric grid, including variations in both generation and demand.
Intermittent renewable power, like wind and solar, can benefit greatly from storage as a way of saving energy when it is easy to produce to be used when it is needed.
The industry got a key boost last year with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841, which requires grid operators to treat electricity from storage the same as if it were from other sources like generation.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said this year that as of March, the United States had 899 megawatts of battery storage capacity, a quadrupling from less than five years earlier. The country could have 2,500 MW by 2023.
Aimee Ghosh, an attorney at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who has tracked recent pro-storage legislation, said the broad support among interest groups and companies is a major indicator of the potential success of storage legislation.
“You’re seeing a broad coalition outside of Congress with various interest groups, stakeholders in the energy industry, really in agreement that this is needed, good policy and good for America. And you don’t really see, like you would with other types of legislation, anyone who’s overtly opposed,” she said, noting that the legislation is technology- and fuel-neutral.
Ghosh said she expects some form of legislation to pass, potentially as part of a larger legislative package. She said one likely bill is the version of Collins’s “BEST Act” that passed in September out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with only Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) objecting. Collins is up for reelection next year in what is expected to be one of the country’s toughest Senate races.
Speakes-Backman said she’s optimistic that both of the major storage bills could get passed this year, though she acknowledges that there are many variables.
While there is little outspoken opposition to supporting storage, there are skeptics.
William Yeatman, a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said government policies to support storage amount to picking winners and losers, which he believes shouldn’t be the government’s job.
“This sequence of subsidy-seeking demonstrates the inefficiency of ‘planning’ the growth of industries through policy,” Yeatman said.
“We have a grid that is dependent on reliable flows of electricity. Yet we subsidize intermittent energy,” he said. “Now, the argument goes, we need to subsidize energy storage to address the intermittent energy engendered by the first wave of subsidies and mandates.”
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