Jun 25, 2019

How America’s biggest renewable-energy power line failed

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

Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 50 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 704,095 — Total deaths: 33,509 — Total recoveries: 148,824.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 132,637 — Total deaths: 2,351 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked" people
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reported 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reported almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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