Lawsuit seeks Energy Department documents on overdue network study

WASHINGTON—The Center for Biological Diversity today sued the U.S. Department of Energy for failing to release public documents on the agency’s long-awaited study of power transmission bottlenecks Across the country.

“This study is critical to understanding how renewable energy capacity can be unlocked to advance our climate goals and prevent more climate-related disasters,” said Center attorney Augusta Wilson. “In the wake of the death of the Build Back Better Act, it is critical that the Biden administration tear down these grid barriers that prevent renewable energy from powering communities across the country. The study may be a crucial step in addressing the climate emergency, so it’s frustrating that it appears to be stuck on the drawing board.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court in Washington, D.C., follows the Center’s 2021 request under the Freedom of Information Act for state records the department’s network congestion study and a computer model, the North American Energy Resilience Model.

A recent report from the Ministry shows that massive amounts of clean energy are waiting to be connected to transmission lines – enough to power most of the country by 2030.

The network congestion study, mandated by Congress, will help federal officials identify ways to meet the Biden administration’s climate goals. Record heat waves, increasing power outages and volatile fossil fuel prices add urgency to the study and the need to increase distributed energy to improve energy security.

The Center also sent the ministry a letter today asking if it was complying with the legal requirements for study, which Congress strengthened in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. Congress requires the department to conduct the study every three years, but the latest study has been completed in 2015.

The department issued a study project in 2020, but it was never finalized. This document indicated that the agency intended to base the network congestion study on the new energy resilience computing model. The model includes all energy sources, including fossil fuels, and does not consider how grid improvements could facilitate the transition to renewables, for example by expanding access to distributed energy resources such as as rooftop solar, storage and micro-grids to wholesale transmission markets.

A Department of January to remark stated that it intended to prepare a study of transmission needs to fulfill its mandate from Congress, but the notice did not provide any timeframe for completing the study. The notice also failed to address issues that Congress wants to consider, such as facilitating renewable energy and minimizing damage to “sensitive environmental areas and cultural heritage sites”.

“The Department of Energy is a pivot in the fight against climate change, and it fails to articulate how it plans to do its part to bring the country to a reliable renewable energy grid,” Wilson said. “We are in a climate emergency, and the public has a right to know what the department is doing to address it.”

Denise W. Whigham