Seth Kaplan, Vice President of Policy and Climate Advocacy for the Conservation Law Foundation, originally posted this on clf.org
Next week I’ll be participating in a clean energy summit in Boston that will feature Congressman Ed Markey and FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur. Attendance at this event is free. Please RSVP today.
This event brings together key Federal officials from the Administration and Congress, their state counterparts, clean energy industry leaders and the environmental community and energy consumers to forge clean energy solutions that benefit our economy and our environment drawing on the full range of options from renewable energy to transmission infrastructure to demand side solutions like energy efficiency.
Please join me and others for this engaging, important conversation.
The EPA bid farewell to 2011 by permanently closing a long chapter in the history of our nation’s electric grid and opening a new one. The agency’s new rules restricting mercury and other toxic emissions will shutter some of our nation’s oldest, dirtiest, and wasteful coal and oil-fired power plants and move us toward a cleaner, safer and smarter electricity system.
The rules affecting these power plants were exempted from Clean Air Act rules enacted more than 40 years ago because policy makers expected them to shut down in the near future. Now ancient, many of these plants are still spewing pollution with devastating health and environmental impacts. Public health experts say that closing these plants will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.
Obviously this is a major victory for public health and the environment, but it is also a quantum leap in the evolution of our electric grid. These antiquated power plants didn’t just influence the types of power we use, they actually dictated the way the current grid was built. In almost every case, these plants were built by traditional monopoly utilities that decided which plants to build and where to build them, and simply built whatever transmission was needed to connect them to the grid and deliver their power to customers. All of these costs were then passed on to ratepayers.
Shuttering these plants decades after ratepayers have fully paid for them is a big deal for their owners, who reap fat profits from keeping them online. Their alarmist claims about the risks of shutting them down, though not surprising, are baseless. Numerous studies have shown the EPA rules pose no threat to grid reliability or adequate power supplies. In fact, the rules accelerate the historic transformation of our electricity supply that is already under way. Retiring old coal plants paves the way for developing cleaner, cheaper domestic resources that can meet growing electric demand. Renewable electricity, our nation’s richest energy resource, can meet that demand if we build a grid that can tap into it.
The main obstacle to developing our virtually unlimited renewable energy resources is building the transmission to deliver them from the remote places where they are most cost-effective and abundant – the Great Plains, Southwest, and offshore – to population centers where they are needed. A close second last year to natural gas among new generation sources, renewable power is competitively priced, fast to build, and has a proven record of reliability. The EPA rules make the case for building transmission for renewable energy more compelling than ever. The rules should also allay concerns that new transmission lines would unintentionally give new life to old and dirty power plants because it ensures most of them will cease to exist.
The EPA’s announcement comes close on the heels of another landmark policy for our electricity system: FERC Order 1000. Issued in July, this rule gives grid planners new tools for working across arbitrary regional barriers that for decades have prevented interstate transmission lines that could get remote renewables to market from getting built. Order 1000 also requires planners to consider public policies, such as renewable energy standards and environmental regulations, when deciding what to build and where.
Taken together, these rules give regional planners the tools and information to work together and identify the best strategic investments to modernize our grid. A stronger, smarter and more efficient electric system that promotes competition is what we need to reduce rates, improve reliability, and develop the clean, domestic resources that can fuel our nation for the next 30 years and beyond.
Earlier this month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) – a federal agency responsible for the sale and transmission of wholesale electricity in eight Western states – to revise its practices that were creating an un-level playing field for wind power seeking access to the grid.
FERC’s decision, detailed here by the New York Times’ Matt Wald was in response to BPA’s actions last June when a wealth of wind and hydropower from a record snowmelt caused a surge of power on the grid. Instead of selling the cheap, excess power to neighboring utilities, BPA effectively “shut off” the region’s wind power.
The move denied utilities the renewable energy which they had contracted to purchase in order to comply with state renewable portfolio standards. It also cost wind farm owners millions and created an atmosphere of uncertainty about the ability of wind power generators to sell to customers in the future. Not only is that fundamentally unfair, many believed, without FERC’s order, investment in new wind power facilities in the region would come to a standstill.
More importantly, the Bonneville practices caused the displacement of almost 100,000 megawatt hours of inexpensive wind energy from May through July 2011 – enough power to supply 10,000 households for a year. If sold into the wholesale market, that power could have helped drive down costs for all consumers.
While some may see the BPA issue as unique to a region that is blessed with a wealth of renewable energy, its importance was not lost on lawmakers representing the other side of the country who saw its implications for competitive energy markets.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and long-time advocate for open and competitive electrical transmission policies, weighed in on the decision, saying:
“I encourage Bonneville and the Department of Energy to work closely with each other and with wind developers and other parties to develop mutually-agreeable policies that ensure open access to transmission and create a positive environment for clean energy investment.”
Rep. Markey also sent a letter to the Department of Energy (DOE) encouraging the agency to address future barriers to integrating renewable energy into the grid. Read Markey’s statement here.
Americans for a Clean Energy Grid’s Bill White published an article in The Hill today:
Open up access to our energy resources with new transmission
The Great Plains states – from North Dakota to Texas – have been called the Saudi Arabia of wind. As much electricity could be generated every year from wind in those states as the United States consumes as a whole. The trick is getting that enormous energy potential to market.
The electric power transmission network in this country was not designed to reach deep into the lightly populated regions of the Great Plains, yet that is where the best wind resource exists. Failing to build power lines to bring that energy to market would be like finding a new supergiant oil field in Kansas and not building a pipeline to it.
Americans for a Clean Energy Grid’s Bill White published an article in Gristtoday:
The dirty little secret behind the ‘transmission debate’
The United States is fortunate to have some of the richest and most diverse renewable energy resources in the world — wind in the Great Plains, solar in the Southwest, and even more wind off the Atlantic coast. As much electricity could be generated every year from these resources as the United States consumes as a whole — several times over. The trick is getting that energy to market.
On Thursday, October 21, the National Clean Energy Transmission Initiative (NCETI) hosted its second major forum on clean energy transmission in Des Moines, Iowa. Co-hosted with the Iowa Environmental Council, ITC Holdings, Wind on the Wires, the American Wind Energy Association, Fresh Energy, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the forum brought together state and federal lawmakers, industry leaders, environmental and renewable energy advocates, and member of the public to learn more about how clean energy transmission can help revitalize the struggling Midwestern economy while simultaneously helping to protect the environment.
The forum convened experts from around the country to discuss expanding and modernizing the electrical grid, a necessity for linking remote renewable resources like wind from the Great Plains to the cities and towns where people live. Panelists discussed topics ranging from economic growth and revival, to environmental protection and conservation, to overcoming barriers to increased clean transmission.
Senator Tom Harkin opened the forum with a keynote address on the need to make Iowa a leader in renewable wind power, stating that it is both an economic and an environmental imperative to develop Iowa’s abundant wind resources. He emphasized that Iowans are developing a thriving wind turbine manufacturing industry, as well as a nation-leading wind power generation industry.
Roya Stanley, Director of the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, honed in on the economics of clean energy in her presentation. She discussed the main benefits to Iowans and Midwesterners from increased wind energy, which include increased savings from the use of local renewable energy sources and increased revenues from the exportation of wind power to neighboring states. To fully develop Midwestern wind, however, Stanley emphasized the need for additional energy infrastructure to give the green light to the estimated 300,000 MW of wind projects that are currently on hold nationwide because of a lack of transmission.
NCETI is planning a number of additional transmission forums across the country, so bookmark our events page and stay tuned for a forum near you.
Watch videos from the event below:
To view speakers’ PowerPoint presentations, please click on the links below.
- Nathaniel Baer, Iowa Environmental Council
- Greg Heide, Iowa Farmers Union
- John Moore, Environmental Law and Policy Center
- Beth Soholt, Wind on the Wires
- Roya Stanley, Iowa Office of Energy Independence
- John Wachtler, Barr Engineering
- Brian Weber, Electric Transmission America
Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) announced a draft climate and energy bill today titled “The American Power Act.” The draft, which initially targets utilities only, puts limits on global warming pollution that aim to cut national greenhouse gas pollution levels 17 percent by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050. You can read more about the bill here.
While no specific mention of transmission is included in the APA, Senator Kerry did indicate that Senator Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) “American Clean Energy and Security Act” (ACELA; S.1462), which does include transmission provisions, would be incorporated as part of a comprehensive bill. Bill White recently wrote a blog post about ACELA on NCETI.
Senator Kerry expects that Senate leadership will try to move the bill rather quickly, with activity planned for as early as Memorial Day. His intention is to pass the bill during the current session of Congress, which concludes this fall.