Senator Martin Heinrich announced his intention to introduce legislation that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) siting authority “as a backstop in the rare case where states have been unable to act on priority projects” that have been selected as part of FERC’s regional transmission planning process under Order No. 1000. Heinrich made the announcement during keynote remarks at the Southwest Clean Energy Transmission Summit at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque on April 1, co-hosted by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid and the Utton Center for Transboundary Resources, and sponsored by High Country News. A member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Heinrich said he will craft a bill that could become part of more comprehensive energy legislation now being developed by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Heinrich’s announcement capped a well-attended full-day conference featuring diverse speakers and panel discussions on how to expand and upgrade high-voltage transmission networks to enable development of abundant yet largely untapped renewable resources. New Mexico is home to enormous renewable energy potential, ranking 11th in wind and second in solar potential, enough to power the entire state hundreds of times over – if it could be developed. Transmission would allow New Mexico to not only achieve its own clean energy goals, but to export inexpensive and abundant resources to help other states achieve their goals rapidly and cost-effectively.
Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed strong support for developing the state’s untapped resources:
“New Mexico ought to be positioned as a leader in the world and a leader in the country, not only on energy efficiency and green job development, but also with innovations to do the transmission effectively and securely . . . for all renewable energy systems.”
Congressman Ben Ray Lujan added that clean energy transmission is not only important for New Mexico but critical to maintaining national economic competitiveness:
“As a nation, we need to make this investment and make sure we stay ahead of our foreign competitors.”
The rapid growth of distributed energy resources like rooftop solar was also discussed in detail. Panelists generally agreed that both transmission connecting utility scale clean energy and distributed generation were essential and complementary investments in a clean energy future, not mutually exclusive.
Other notable speakers included former FERC Commissioner Suedeen Kelly; State Senator John Ryan (R-Bernalillo & Sandoval Counties) and Director of Government Affairs for SunZia; Karen Montoya, Chairwoman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission; Richard Walje, President & CEO of the Gateway Projects at Pacificorp (a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy),; Gary Graham, Executive Director of Western Resource Advocates; Jeff Dennis, Director of Policy Development at FERC; and Carl Monroe, Executive Vice President and CEO of the Southwest Power Pool. Complete videos and presentations from the summit can found here.