The porcine stimulus bill passed by the House contains $15 billion in capital investments and loan guarantees for renewable energy projects and new electric transmission lines. But the billions of dollars targeted toward renewable energy aren’t likely to generate many “green collar” jobs anytime soon. That’s because the environmental and permitting regulations for these types of projects typically take years. This is particularly true for new transmission lines. And without the new transmission lines, new solar or wind power stations won’t bring many benefits.
For example, the Tehachapi Transmission Project, a 250 mile transmission project to deliver electricity from wind farms in Southern California, took over 10 years to design, permit, and begin construction. One of the reasons for the long wait is that all of these projects have to go through a lengthy environmental review process to comply with NEPA before they can obtain a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency.
If Congress is serious about focusing the stimulus on creating jobs as soon as possible, it should grant a categorical exclusion from NEPA for projects funded with the stimulus. There is actually some precedence for this. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress modified the environmental compliance requirements for a broad range of energy related projects.
Without a more streamlined regulatory process it’s unlikely the renewable energy stimulus will be creating any jobs any time soon. But this problem of delayed spending isn’t just true for renewable energy and electricity transmission. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government will only be able to spend $432 billion in 2009, and estimates that the government won’t finish spending all of the $820 billion until 2019.