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Power struggle over towers

Nov 24 , 2009 - Record, The Bergen County, N.J.

Combating global warming with a "green superhighway" of high- voltage power lines -- that large groups of consumers then have to pay for -- could be bad news for New Jersey, say state leaders, environmental activists and utility companies.

Governor Corzine joined governors from nine other Atlantic coast states in opposing the idea. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., voted against a major energy bill because of it.

And the heads of the state's Sierra Club chapter and its biggest electric company, who are fighting in court over other power plant issues, are united against it.

They all say the plan, intended to promote renewable energy from wind, solar and geothermal sources, could derail offshore wind energy projects already under way in the East, and open new markets for coal, one of the most carbon-dioxide intensive fuels.

The proposal is envisioned as a way to tap the wind whipping down the plains and the sun baking the desert to power major population centers on the East and West coasts. No transmission-line routes have been laid out yet, and it is not clear how Congress will handle the issue.

Backers, including a former Nevada regulator now running the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., say the nation's energy future requires giving the federal government new power over siting and cost-sharing.

"The Achilles' heel of renewable energy is transmission," FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told a forum sponsored by Energy Daily in Washington last month. "Many of the clean resources are located far from consumers."

States currently control siting issues, and it is understandable states might oppose high-voltage towers across their land if the states are not benefiting directly. But advocates for giving FERC the power to site power lines, even if states object, say that reducing the billions of dollars spent on oil from countries that are not friendly to the United States, and shifting to energy that produces less carbon, provide national benefits that justify federal authority and regional cost-sharing.

"Our energy policy is a liability to our economic security and our national security," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, told the same forum.

Countering Wellinghoff and Salazar at the forum was Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent company of Public Service Electric and Gas Co.

"Suggesting we should get our renewables from remote areas regardless of transmission costs is like saying if only we had access to free refrigerated freight trains, we should get all our ice cubes from the North Pole," Izzo said. "Who pays to build the trains or lay the tracks? And wouldn't it be cheaper to make the ice locally?"

Izzo also said that long-distance lines invariably would cross regions where power is produced from coal, and it is unlikely that once lines are built those power plants would be barred from using them.

"Thus you could end up with transmission lines that are economically unjustified and environmentally self-defeating," he said. PSEG is partnering with Deepwater Wind on a 350-megawatt offshore wind project 12 miles southeast of Atlantic City.

But that project and others off New Jersey, Delaware and Rhode Island may not go forward if government backing for Midwest or Western power makes it cheaper than offshore wind, said Jim Lanard, managing director of Deepwater.

"This is a turf war between regions," he said. "New Jersey would go from exporting its money to oil-exporting nations to exporting its money to power-exporting states."

Corzine and other coastal governors wrote to congressional leaders in May arguing that if the federal government is going to get involved at all in transmission issues, they should be addressed regionally.

"This ratepayer-funded revenue guarantee for land-based wind and other generation resources in the Great Plains would have significant, negative consequences for our region," the governors said.

A spokeswoman for Wellinghoff, Mary O'Driscoll, said long- distance transmission lines should not be built if local resources could meet demand and address carbon-reduction goals reliably and cheaply.

But she said there still needs to be a structure to address interstate transmission issues that serve national goals.

Jobs and local economics are also being cited by critics of the transmission-line proposal. Lanard said companies looking to exploit offshore wind are hoping to build enough of an industry in the Atlantic Ocean that equipment manufacturers would locate in the region.

Right now, the PSEG/Deepwater project is buying equipment for the test tower it plans to build next spring from the Gulf Coast, where companies make equipment for oil and gas drilling platforms. The state is subsidizing $4 million of the test tower project, which will cost between $5 million and $7 million.

Jeff Tittel, state director of the Sierra Club, said the transmission issue is being used by the Obama administration to sell a cap on carbon emissions to members of Congress from Midwestern states. While Tittel supports capping carbon, as the others from New Jersey do, he's worried the power lines would open new markets for coal.

"When you build these big lines, the question is will it be renewable or will it be coal they're carrying? Coal's cheaper, but it will undermine renewable energy," he said.

Menendez tried to ensure states could block transmission lines when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee took up a major energy bill this year.

After his proposed amendments were defeated, Menendez opposed the final bill and said he would seek further changes in the full Senate. That has not yet happened, but the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee begins hearings this week on a broad climate- change bill that may be merged with the energy bill Menendez opposed. Salazar and Wellinghoff are among those scheduled to testify Tuesday, while Izzo is on the witness list for Wednesday.



What it means

What's new:

New Jersey leaders who support global warming laws are against new proposed power lines to carry wind and solar power from sparsely populated plains and deserts to big cities.

What's next:

U.S. Senate committee hearings begin this week.

What they're saying:

"You could end up with transmission lines that are economically unjustified and environmentally self-defeating."

PSEG Chairman Ralph Izzo




(c) 2009 Record, The; Bergen County, N.J.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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