The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is the association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies. Its members provide electricity for more than 220 million Americans, and operate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As an Associate Member of EEI, Stem supports its mission and aligns with its public policy leadership and strategic business intelligence across the nation and abroad.
In this Q&A blog with Stem, Brian Wolff, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs at EEI, discussed what is currently taking place on Capitol Hill; what electric companies are doing to prepare for an ever-increasing number of electric vehicles (EV) on the road; how the energy industry is prepping for a bidirectional flow of energy; chief barriers to achieving a decarbonized world; what the future of energy looks like; and how Stem & partners will contribute to modernizing the energy grid.
Tell us about your role at EEI.
As the CSO & EVP of Public Policy and External Affairs at EEI, I am responsible for managing the Government Relations, Customer Solutions, Political and External Affairs, and Communications and Member Engagement departments for the Institute. These groups are responsible for and integrate EEI’s direct lobbying, grassroots outreach, coalition building, and strategic communications functions. I am also the EVP of the Edison Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the benefits of electricity to families, businesses, and industries worldwide. Prior to joining EEI in 2009, I was a strategist for the U.S. House of Representatives and served under Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representatives Robert T. Matsui (D-CA), Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
I am a self-proclaimed progressive who sought out a challenging industry where I could make the most impact. I found that challenge with energy, and, through EEI, I get to help America’s electric companies as they work to transform the energy grid and deliver resilient clean energy to more than 220 million electric customers across the country, and even more when you add in EEI’s international members.
What is your perspective on what is happening in leadership and government?
In February, we met with President Joe Biden, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese to talk about what hasn’t happened yet with federal tax credits. The most consequential thing for me that would impact energy storage is for Congress to pass the package of clean energy tax credits.
If you think about every technology that’s ever existed, if you ever wanted to accelerate it to get something done faster, you’ve got to incentivize it, which we’ve done with wind and solar. As a result, we’ve watched the cost for generating wind and solar energy come down. It’s time to incentivize energy storage technologies, too.
Clean energy tax credits remain a top priority for our industry and is my number one job right now on Capitol Hill with EEI’s members. It’s within the reconciliation package that Congress is revisiting in May. We’ve had about 150 CEO-led meetings since January 2021 to educate key Members of Congress and Administration officials, beating the drum for infrastructure and tax credits so we can accelerate to a cleaner energy future a lot faster. If we do it the right way with the credits, it will be the largest down payment on climate that we will ever make as a country. It’s a big deal.
What are electric companies doing to prepare for the electric load that EVs will create in the near future as they become more mainstream?
We are all in on electric transportation. EEI has a strong partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) and we have been working especially close with the DOE team since Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021. The IIJA contains more than $7.5B for EV charging infrastructure in the form of grants and loans to states and for public-private partnerships. I’ve always believed that the biggest barrier to EV adoption is not the lack of EVs, it is a lack of access to charging infrastructure that is convenient, affordable, equitable, and reliable. EEI estimates that there will be about 22 million EVs on U.S. roads in 2030, and we will need more than 100,000 fast charging ports to support those vehicles. Today, we only have around 10,000 of those fast chargers.
That is why EEI and our members launched the National Electric Highway Coalition in December. Our goal is to have a foundational network of EV fast chargers along major U.S. travel corridors throughout the entire country by the end of 2023. This is a separate program from what the DOE is doing within cities and communities through the approved infrastructure bill.
As usual, California’s electric companies are moving quickly to build the foundational network of charging stations in the state. And across the country, electric companies are investing more than $3.4 billion to deploy charging infrastructure and accelerate electric transportation. These are programs that were approved by state regulators, so they are separate from the IIJA funding.
To maximize true value, it’s not enough to pull electrons from the grid. Energy consumers should be able to send electrons back to the grid during forced outages and PSPS’s. How does the industry tackle this opportunity?
I look at this as the number one reliability play: to have an EV in your driveway that could power your home on backup is amazing. When you look at GM and Ford, they’re talking about bidirectional energy flow and the value it brings to customers and to the grid.
It takes grid planning and modernization to get started. The work is well underway, and achieving widespread adoption of EVs also requires talking to regulators, because we’ll need to identify and invest in the places where we need to make grid modifications and upgrades to accelerate this growth.
Also, a lot of the resilience money that you’re seeing in the IIJA is for dual purposes. It’s one idea to strengthen the grid, but it’s another to be able to think about distribution upgrades, what those look like, to develop innovative rates for customers, and to efficiently incorporate EVs into the energy grid. In the future, that’s the way everyone is going to be thinking about this.
What do you see as the chief barrier to realizing a decarbonized world?
Electric companies already have achieved impressive results in reducing carbon emissions, yet, in some ways, I feel like we are still in the early days of transitioning toward clean energy. When we supported the Waxman-Markey bill in 2009, we saw the beginning of the beginning.
I’ll note though that, today, 40% of all U.S. power generation comes from clean, carbon-free sources, including nuclear energy, hydropower, wind, and solar energy. We’re proud of this progress, and we’re truly leading the world.
There’s now a force driving us away from coal, and this sets us on a path that will accelerate clean energy so quickly that the clean energy space is going to become even busier. If and when the tax credits pass, the playing field will be leveled for developers.
And we can’t forget the opportunity that we have to use clean, efficient electric energy to help other sectors that have a more challenging path to net-zero—particularly the transportation and industrial sectors.
You’ve been at EEI for 13 years. What do you like most about what you’ve been doing, and what do you want to be doing 13 years from now?
Thirteen years from now I want to be living in California again! Secondly, I’ve really been proud of our clean energy transition, which has sustained me with some of the roadblocks and barriers that we face in the industry. Addressing these roadblocks has kept me in the industry, and I haven’t walked away because I see the change happening. At times it might appear slow and incremental, but make no mistake: the clean energy transformation is underway and it is improving the lives of the customers and communities that we serve.
And then I think about what might happen next month in Congress, and I think that might be just enough to create a tipping point that the industry needs in this race toward clean energy everywhere. I think that’s what I would view as a win for the industry, and I think it’d be a win for our customers and for everyone in the storage system business, too.
How can Stem be part of the solution?
There’s a portion of IIJA that is all about appropriations to carbon-free technologies. And in that carbon-free technology, the most important thing there is is long-duration storage. We all know how fast the technology is advancing so it’s exciting to think what we might see just 36 months from now.
Stem should continue to be part of the Carbon-Free Technology Initiative and push that forward. Continue to partner with electric companies. Talk about what Stem and electric companies can enable together to benefit the customers and the communities we all serve.
Stem has the unique opportunity and ability to rapidly scale and deploy energy storage. Partnering with electric companies makes that limitless! To me, that is the future of us getting stuff done, especially in a regulated industry like ours.
If the playing field is leveled for developers and electric companies with a new tax credit, Stem should continue to do business with both. Stay curious, focus on innovation, and work together to prepare for the clean energy future.