11 items we’re energized about in the infrastructure bill

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Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

On Monday, November 15, 2021, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, colloquially known as the “infrastructure bill.” The bill contains some important investments in climate and clean energy that will contribute to addressing the climate crisis. And while the bill does not achieve the full vision of climate investments sought by climate advocates and required to achieve deep greenhouse gas emissions reduction, it is nonetheless an important first step that advances several critical pieces of our clean energy system. The next step in the coming weeks will be for Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) which contains significant investments in climate, jobs, and justice programs. But more on that later! Right now, we’re here to celebrate the infrastructure bill.

We are still in very early days and much of how items in the infrastructure bill will play out for Minnesota and the Midwest has yet to be seen. However, Fresh Energy policy experts have pulled out a few of their favorite, albeit very high-level, items from the bill.

  1. Up to $7.5 billion for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, with at least $68 million guaranteed for Minnesota. The infrastructure bill houses the biggest national investment in electric vehicle charging yet, and is a significant first step towards funding a national EV charging network. $5 billion of the funds will be dedicated only to electric vehicle infrastructure, with another $2.5 billion available to electric vehicle charging stations as well as other alternative fuels such as propane, hydrogen, and fossil gas. For comparison, consider that in Minnesota the biggest investment to-date in EV charging has been about $7 million from the Volkswagen Settlement Fund, which is disbursed over 10 years. $68 million for EV charging over five years is more than 9 times the amount of that Volkswagen funds, in half the amount of time!
  1. $39.2 billion for public transit, the largest investment in public transit in U.S. history, with at least $818 million coming to Minnesota. The infrastructure bill also contains a historic investment in public transit, the improvement, expansion, and electrification of which will be crucial to meeting our transportation decarbonization goals as a state. This investment also increases funding for existing competitive grant programs focused on clean transit, which will directly support Metro Transit’s own transition to an electric fleet.  The infrastructure bill also includes an additional $2.5 billion for electric school buses, with another $2.5 billion eligible as well. 
  2. $3.5 billion for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program. The Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP, is a key source of funding for reducing under-resourced households’ energy burden. Paired with Minnesota’s Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act’s increased spending requirement for utilities on energy efficiency programs that serve under-resourced households here in Minnesota, this investment will mean even more households in Minnesota can benefit from increased energy savings.  
  3. New $750 million grant program for coal communities to assist in supporting advanced energy technology manufacturing projects in coal communities. This grant program comes at a time when Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development is in the process of hiring a Director for the Energy Transition Office. This person’s role will be to help communities and workers impacted by power plant closures in Minnesota to successfully transition into alternatives that maximize the opportunities for future growth and wellbeing. 
  4.  $550 million investment in the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program and $500 million in the State Energy Program to provide grants to communities, cities, states, U.S. territories, and tribes to develop and implement clean energy programs and projects that will create jobs. 
  5.  A new $2.5 billion Transmission Facilitation Program to help develop nationally significant transmission lines, increase resilience by connecting regions of the country, and improve access to cheaper clean energy sources. This investment is critical as grid operators, including MISO, are in the midst of grid modernization efforts and long-range planning to build a future-proof electric grid that can handle extreme weather, increased demand to move away from fossil fuels, and a growing carbon-free electricity supply. An additional $1 billion is available as financial assistance for the expansion of energy access and resiliency in rural or remote areas. 
  6.  $3 billion expansion of the Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program, focusing on investments that improve the flexibility of the grid including upgrading existing transmission and distribution systems, microgrids, advanced metering, demand response, deploying energy storage, and more—including new items such as enhancing the ability to integrate EV charging infrastructure.  
  7.  Expanded federal backstop authority to approve the siting of new transmission projects, thereby resurrecting a power previously granted to FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to approve the siting of nationally significant electric transmission projects. This will improve resiliency of the grid as a whole while enabling more customers to obtain a greater proportion of their electricity from renewable energy resources.    

Bonus Points!

  1.  $5 billion in federal financial assistance aimed at supporting grid reliability research and development as well as demonstration projects.  This will help drive the innovation necessary to make a clean energy economy happen as quickly as possible by supporting those individuals who are pushing the technological capabilities of our grid.  
  1. $7 billion to support domestic battery supply chain and production, which will benefit grid storage and electric vehicles. Less discussed but still important is the funding available to build the U.S.’s battery supply chain, from critical minerals mining to recycling to production. As we noted in our EV battery blog post, the U.S. is behind when it comes to this sector, making this investment particularly vital for our domestic clean energy manufacturing goals.  
  1. $100 million minimum allocation for Minnesota to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 83,000 Minnesotans who currently lack it. Additionally, approximately 19% of people in Minnesota will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.  

While we expect further clarity on the 2,500+ page infrastructure bill in the coming months, these are the items we are most excited about. But as we mentioned at the start of this blog, we need Congress to keep up the momentum created by passing the Build Back Better Act (BBBA)—which contains even greater provisions for clean energy and climate. The BBBA will have a major impact in Minnesota and deepen all the work that the infrastructure bill sets into motion. Stay tuned for more information and updates!