Political Momentum Grows For US National Transmission Grid
Oct 14, 2008 - Dow Jones - Newswires
WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Momentum
is growing in Washington for a federal high- voltage
power grid to spark growth of U.S. renewable energy
supplies and decrease the country's dependence on
Lobbyists and regulators are urging
lawmakers to create a national high voltage transmission
system that they say would allow renewable projects
such as wind and solar farms to flourish.
A growing appetite in Congress to constrain carbon
dioxide emissions and a desire tap the nation's domestic
energy sources to reduce dependence on energy imports
will likely give a political boost to a federally-mandated
Although the country has substantial wind and solar
potential, much of the generation capacity is located
hundreds of miles from the demand centers. A corridor
along the Rocky Mountains from North Dakota into the
Texas panhandle, for example, could provide nearly
a fifth of the U.S.'s power needs, but the largest
consumers are located on the East and West coasts.
The highest solar potential is in Southwestern states
that have comparatively smaller populations.
"We have a chicken and egg problem," said George
Pataki, former New York state Republican Governor.
"Developers won't build a solar system because there
isn't any transmission capacity to move it and utilities
won't build the needed transmission because there
isn't any generation," he said. Pataki and his consulting
firm, the Pataki-Cahill Group, are pushing for Congress
to establish federal siting authority that would overcome
one of the major challenges to current transmission
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph
Kelliher in late July called for Congress to give
the agency more power to site high voltage grid lines
as the country faces severe power bottlenecks in coming
years. A "not-in- my-backyard" syndrome has plagued
the utility industry, and Kelliher warned that without
such siting authority, congestion would likely worsen.
"The Commission is increasingly confronted with
transmission issues that involve multiple states and
must be considered from a multi-state, interconnection-wide,
or North American perspective," the FERC commissioner
told a recent congressional hearing. Congress should
give the regulator the same federal powers that lawmakers
gave the agency for siting of natural gas pipelines.
Democratic leadership is also warming up to proposals
proffered by billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens
that aim to move the country's natural gas use to
transportation, supplanting gas-fired generation with
renewables. Pickens' plan also calls for a national
Although Congress in 2005 gave the regulatory body
and the Department of Energy greater siting authorities
- including the power to designate national transmission
corridors, states currently retain primary jurisdiction
to site transmission facilities, and federal transmission
siting effectively supplements a state siting regime.
The federal government in the past year has declared
large swaths of the southwest and mid-Atlantic regions
as critical to the U.S. energy grid, saying the corridors
are vital to reduce critically congested areas where
transmission is needed to meet electricity demand
and prevent power crises.
It is the first use of a new federal power to help
approve construction of electric lines in some places
where state officials have stymied them. Some lawmakers
and community groups argue the government corridors
wrongly expand the potential use of eminent domain
Local and state authorities, as well as a host of
advocacy groups, have harshly criticized the DOE's
designations, in some cases suing the government,
alleging the corridors are illegal under the National
Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species
But Pataki and others say the process is taking
too long and more authority is needed. Otherwise,
those renewable energy corridors won't be built, he
FERC Commissioner Phillip Moeller argues that creating
a national grid - and giving the regulator the authority
to site the infrastructure - is a constitutional issue,
given that it represents interstate commerce.
While Congress would have to establish the federal
authority, FERC already has the powers to encourage
growth through cost allocation, Moeller said.
Some industry experts say a regional approach, where
rates would depend on the use of the renewable energy
transmitted through the grid, would offer the best
cost-allocation, but Moeller said he would prefer
rolling costs into rates evenly across the country.
A national grid could also gather traction if Democrats
deliver on their promise to revisit a renewable energy
portfolio mandate that would require utilities across
the country provide a certain percentage of their
generation from renewable sources.
Moeller said that while an RPS isn't necessary,
"it would develop transmission, because areas that
don't have the renewable resources would realize they
need the transmission built in order to access it."
Congress is expected to revisit proposals for a
federal standard under a larger Democratic majority
and many lawmakers see expanding the program as stimulating
-By Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswires, 202-862-9285;
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
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