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Power lines and wind turbines, Germany. Photo: Jens Kalaene/picture alliance/Getty

America was “tantalizingly” close to building what would have amounted to a superhighway power line sending renewable energy across the country, but local opposition, government delay and utility disinterest killed it.

What's happening: In "Superpower: One Man's Quest to Transform American Energy" (just out today), WSJ reporter Russell Gold documents in excruciating detail the reality of just how hard it is to build big infrastructure projects in the United States.

What’s more, this 700-mile-long power line was for something that ostensibly has a lot of support: renewable energy.

The big picture: The book is part biography of entrepreneur Michael Skelly — whose now-shuttered firm tried to build the power line — part historical record on electricity, and part lesson in trying big things against myriad obstacles.

Skelly’s firm, Clean Line Energy Partners, was founded in 2009 to move wind power from Oklahoma to Tennessee, but folded in 2017 after legal, political and bureaucratic obstacles mounted, including:

  • A slow start on federal review at the Energy Department under then-President Obama.
  • Lawsuits and legislation from lawmakers and residents in Arkansas, which the line would pass through, and Tennessee.
  • Mixed messages but ultimately no interest from Tennessee Valley Authority, a government-owned utility, to buy the wind power.
  • A lack of support, despite President Trump listing it as an infrastructure priority.

Between the lines: While covered regularly in trade publications, the power line didn’t garner many national headlines.

  • Much of the media — myself included! — were focused far more on another big project that failed for some of the same reasons: The Keystone XL Pipeline, a Canada–U.S. oil pipeline under review from 2008 until 2015 when Obama rejected it. (Trump wants to revive it, but legal and other hurdles remain.)
  • Experts say big power lines moving renewable energy — akin to our highway system — will be essential to really expand variable wind and solar.

What’s next: Gold wonders if Skelly and his team “will turn out to have blazed a trail that others can follow. The second mouse gets the cheese, as the saying goes. What is usually left unsaid is that the first mouse gets the trap.”

  • Gold references Cape Wind, a similar story about a 16-year attempt to build America’s first offshore wind farm. It finally faded in 2017, just as what actually ended up being the first one began operating.

Go deeper: Read an excerpt in the WSJ.

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
20 mins ago - Health

The next generation of coronavirus vaccines won't come as quickly

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A flood of cash from Operation Warp Speed helped coax a slew of biotech companies into the race for a coronavirus vaccine, but the incentives to keep working on new competitors won't be nearly as strong.

Why it matters: That initial flood of cash worked — it delivered multiple, highly effective vaccines in record time. In other disease areas, though, second- and third-generation vaccines usually become the dominant products. And the first COVID-19 vaccines aren't necessarily a great fit for the whole world.

The Biden climate doctrine emerges at summit

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Biden's climate summit is highlighting a White House approach that blends diplomacy, executive power, salesmanship and a few threats too.

  • Here are a few pillars of the emerging Biden doctrine.

Biden gets mixed grades on revolving door

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden is getting mixed marks for his reliance on industry insiders to staff his administration during its first 100 days.

Why it matters: Progressives have leaned on the new president to limit the revolving door between industry and government. A new report from the Revolving Door Project praises him on that front but highlights key hires it deems ethically questionable.

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