Cross-post: What happened to that national high voltage transmission system?

This is a cross-post of an article written on 9/2/14 by Herman K. Trabish in Utility Dive.

Once-bold calls for national high-capacity transmission to harvest abundant but remote U.S. wind, solar, and geothermal resources are now a distant whisper. But some developers are still pioneering upgrades for a fragile, somewhat balkanized electricity delivery system.

“You can’t get enough clean energy from distributed resources,” said former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) chairman and staunch distributed energy resources (DERs) advocate Jon Wellinghoff. “If you run the numbers, you find out we need these clean remote resources and transmission lines to get them to the load.”

When DERs are interconnected to central transmission, the whole system becomes “more robust and more reliable,” Wellinghoff said recently in calling for an independent distribution system operator to streamline DER delivery. “Given the energy requirements of this country, we have to have both.”

Calls for a national high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission system began with the renewables expansion in 2006. But barriers were quickly identified.

 

One of the first was that “nobody was in charge,” Wellinghoff said. FERC has authority to site interstate natural gas pipelines but very limited authority to site transmission lines. Local authorities at the state, county, municipal, and even tribal council level become involved. “No one is responsible for figuring out how to get the project done.”

The 157 mile Roseland-Susquehanna line from Pennsylvania to New Jersey was stopped by one national park administrator’s objection to the replacement, on an existing two-mile right-of-way, of a 230 kV line with a 500 kV line, Wellinghoff recalled. Completion was delayed over six years, until $60 million in mitigation funds got the administrator to remit.

In 2006, Wellinghoff proposed to Congress that if local jurisdiction failed, authority should fall to FERC after a year. “But it never went anywhere,” he said.

Clean Line Energy in the heartland

Clean Line Energy Partners (CLEP) is working on five lines “to connect the best resources in the country with load centers that don’t have access to them,” President Michael Skelly explained. “It is a very simple idea. The execution is quite complex. For five years, we have been going at it brick by brick, county by county, landowner by landowner, state by state.”

Funded by National Grid and ZBI Investors, CLEP is developing four HVDC lines and one AC line. “With luck, we will break ground in the next couple of years. The Plains & Eastern (P&E) line to deliver Oklahoma wind to the Southeast is the best candidate.”

 

Skelly’s team faces landowners, environmental groups, county officials, and state regulators as they work up a preliminary route. “By the time you are done studying possible routes, you have thousands of locations on a map that you want to stay away from.” After public feedback, a “refined route” must be permitted by state regulators.

“A state commission can take over a year to decide if the benefits of the project outweigh the downside,” Skelly said. “Opponents file legal briefs, we respond, and there is a blizzard of paper. But you can’t rush public stakeholders. We are methodical. We work within the constraints of the process.”

CLEP stresses the local benefits of its projects, such as suppliers with factories along their lines’ routes that create jobs. To satisfy landowners, CLEP pays 100% value up front as well as making annual per-power payments. And the team never stops communicating “what we are doing and why it is necessary,” Skelly said. “You can never communicate with enough people but we communicate with as many as we can.”

The best response to local resistance is local support, Skelly said. Randolph County, Mo. Presiding Commissioner Susan Carter emphasized one CLEP project’s property taxes and jobs to state regulators and called for Randolph County “to be a part of America’s clean energy grid.” Cindy O’Laughlin and husband, owners of a Ready Mix concrete and trucking company, publicly championed the P&E line’s jobs. And Vicki McCune, director of a non-profit serving the Oklahoma Panhandle and bordering states, organized a “green letter writing campaign” to help the P&E line get public utility status.

“Talk to people. Find champions. That is Chapter One of the playbook,” Skelly said. Tell your story. Answer all questions. Talk benefits. Correct misinformation.

Are there fixes?

The federal government could streamline the process, Skelly said. The DOE is considering the controversial use of its eminent domain power for both the P&E line andthe Transwest Express line that would deliver Wyoming wind to Las Vegas and Southern California.

“There is not clear consensus on infrastructure now and big changes in the relationship between the states and the federal government are unlikely,” Skelly said. “We are working with existing authority, whether it is federal, state, or local. We are not in the policy making business. We are just trying to get our projects done.”

The energy content of Oklahoma wind is 3.4 times that of wind in the Southeast. That will make the harvest and delivery of it cost effective, Skelly believes. Power producers will pay for the line to carry their electricity at a return to CLEP investors, Skelly said, of “around $0.02 per kilowatt-hour.”

“They will be competitive market disruptors,” said Exeter Associates Principal Kevin Porter, who does transmission research for Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. “The line will be the highway that delivers lower cost electricity and they will charge a toll to use it. But it is a very big capital expenditure with a fair amount of risk.”

 

Several factors are imposing delays and “considerable uncertainty” in transmission right now, Porter explained. The biggest is depressed load growth, a hangover from the recession. “Most of these lines were based on electricity demand growth. The need now for new lines is almost non-existent.”

The growth of distributed generation, low cost natural gas, state energy efficiency initiatives, and fulfilled state mandates are also dampening demand.

The on-again, off-again federal production tax credit (PTC) adds to uncertainty. “The Bonneville Power Authority’s “open season” procedures put 4,200 megawatts of new transmission capacity into construction from 2009 to 2011, when the PTC was set, Porter said. “In the last two years, with PTC uncertainty, BPA hasn’t had an open season. There was no demand.”

Despite the determination of CLEP and the TransWest builders, Porter doesn’t “see big multi-state projects happening in the near future.” Only if something big happens, like a commitment to fighting climate change, will transmission building stop “treading water,” Porter said.

The increasing impacts of climate change and new EPA rules will put much more pressure on getting clean resources, Wellinghoff said. “People will have to understand transmission lines are necessary, in conjunction with distributed resources.”

Slate of FERC Orders and Court Decisions Will Impact Grid

 
In Washington’s summer months, when it rains, it pours. There has been a slate of recent activity on the U.S. electric grid, some coming down as official FERC Orders, others coming down as court decisions. Some of these decisions have been positive developments for a U.S. shift towards a cleaner electricity grid, some of have been negative, and the implications of others still are unclear. In this post, we summarize each order and decision, and discuss briefly their impact.
 

FERC Accepts CAISO Energy Imbalance Market
At the June 19 Commission meeting, FERC accepted a California Independent System Operator (CAISO) proposal to implement an Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) in the West. By creating a mechanism which allows excess energy in one balancing area to reduce a shortfall in another, an EIM can reduce costs while bolstering reliability. EIMs are central markets which aggregate and balance generation and load across a wide geographic region, reducing system operation challenges that increasing penetrations of variable generation are expected to bring [1]. In the Western interconnection, the EIM opens the door to a more market-driven, rational, and efficient process for balancing generation and load than is possible at present with 38 separate and largely isolated balancing areas. PacifiCorp of California will be the first company to participate in the EIM, and NV Energy of Nevada has filed with FERC to join the market by October 2015. Participation in the market will be voluntary.
 

FERC Adopts New ROE Methodology for Electric Utilities
Also at the June 19 Commission meeting, FERC came to an important decision regarding the appropriate base rate of return on equity (ROE) for electric utilities building new transmission lines. Pursuant to the Federal Power Act, FERC must ensure that rates charged by transmission providers remain “just and reasonable.” In 2013, a group led by New England public utility commissions, attorney generals , and consumer advocates filed a complaint against utilities owning transmission lines (New England Transmission Owners or NETOs), arguing that the 11.14% return on equity they were receiving was “unjust and unreasonable” in light of the decline in interest rates and other criteria traditionally used to gauge appropriate rates of return for electric utility transmission investments. The hearings involved strong financial and technical arguments on both sides, but the focus of the debate was the methodology used to calculate ROE. In a very significant step, FERC adopted a two-step ROE calculation methodology that accounts for both short and long term growth projections – the same model used for oil and gas pipelines. The new method tempers the impact on ROE of fluctuations in short term growth benchmarks like interest rates by adding in a factor for long term growth linked to GDP. Using this methodology, FERC set the new base ROE at 10.57%. This result is lower than the prior industry-supported ROE, higher than the ROE requested by the complainants, and we believe a good compromise – both methodologically and quantitatively – which should be adequate to attract capital for needed for robust investment in transmission. It’s important to note that finalization of the 10.57% ROE is subject to the outcome of a paper hearing established by FERC to give participants in the case an opportunity to present evidence on the long term growth rate estimates used to calculate it.
 

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Missouri Cost-Recovery Case
In 2011, the Missouri Public Service Commission (MPSC) denied Kansas City Power and Light’s (KCPL) application to recover transmission costs incurred when transmitting power from a gas plant owned by its affiliated generation company in Mississippi to its customers in Missouri. The MPSC concluded that the utility could get the same power at lower cost without incurring the transmission cost. KCPL sought rehearing by the Supreme Court, arguing a violation of the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which holds that federal law preempts state law on transmission rates, so that a state could not reject a FERC-approved transmission rate. Missouri argued that KCPL was not challenging the transmission rate approved by FERC, but its own utility’s decision to purchase its remotely-generated power that required paying such a transmission rate, rather than cheaper power to which it had easier access. Since the Supreme Court declined to accept the case, the ripple effects of this decision remain unclear. The Edison Electric Institute has expressed concern that the decision could set a precedent for public utility commissions across the country to potentially deny recovery of FERC-approved transmission costs if utilities have a lower-cost supply option. As remote, low cost, utility-scale wind and solar resources displace retiring traditional generator closer to load, interstate transmission may become a proportionately larger cost factor in utility procurement decisions. Nonetheless, this ruling should not disadvantage remote clean energy as long as its net delivered cost – including FERC-approved transmission rates – remains competitive.
 

Federal Appeals Court Rejects FERC’s Handling of Transmission Costs in PJM
In June of 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit endorsed FERC’s proposed broad cost-allocation for the multi-value projects planned throughout the MISO area, accepting the premise that the entire area would benefit from the value of the incremental high-voltage transmission needed to bring clean energy to MISO’s millions of electricity customers. One year later, the same court issued a strongly contrasting decision. The court ruled 2-1 that FERC was unable to justify why utilities in the western portion of PJM Interconnection territory should have to pay the costs of transmission lines primarily benefiting the eastern side. At issue was not the “roughly commensurate” principle established in 2009’s landmark Illinois Commerce Commission v. FERC (by the very same court), but rather FERC’s ability to provide enough evidence that costs would indeed be roughly commensurate with benefits. In a strongly worded dissent, Judge Richard Cudahy assailed the court’s call for more exact numbers, saying that a “mathematical solution to this problem…is a complete illusion,” and that the court should defer to FERC’s technical analyses in such cases. Judge Cudahy’s concern that the court is looking for a level of precision that is unattainable by FERC or anyone else seems well-founded. However, if the Commission is able to meet the court’s “roughly commensurate” standard, this now multi-year saga could end as a major positive for investment in clean energy transmission.
 

Appeals Court Throws Out FERC’s Demand-Response Order
Order 745 – issued by FERC in March 2011 – required that demand response (DR) participating in energy markets be compensated on a basis comparable to generators, i.e. at full locational marginal price. FERC reasoned that DR, the power made available to the market by the willingness of a customer not to consume it, was of the same value as that amount of power made available by a generator, and therefore should be priced the same. The order was designed to increase penetration of DR in organized markets, and analyses show that it did, indeed, have the desired effect.. However, in late May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated Order 745, on the grounds that FERC has no jurisdiction over retail activities, and that DR is fundamentally a retail activity subject to State regulation. The court’s ruling applies only to economic payments for DR, not capacity payments, and importantly, implementation of the ruling has been stayed until all appeals are heard. In the short term, the effects of the decision on the DR industry are likely to be small, especially when one considers that economic DR payments accounted for just about 2% of industry revenue in 2013. Over the longer term, the decision raises more significant questions. Specifically, the court’s finding on jurisdiction will almost certainly be tested in DR capacity markets, the source of most of the industry’s revenue, which could turn regulation of DR into a predominantly or even exclusively state-run affair. States, many of which have trumpeted the benefits of DR programs, will play a pivotal role in determining what impact this decision has on the DR industry. The ruling seems unlikely to significantly affect the environment for high-voltage transmission investments for two reasons. First, DR typically produces a different set of benefits than transmission, and second, DR cannot, even at very high levels of penetration, substitute for certain critical clean energy transmission functions, like accessing remote renewable resources and linking balancing areas. That said, if the ruling results in a sharp curtailment of DR, normally viewed as a “non-transmission alternative,” transmission investments may receive greater attention as a result.
 

[1] For more information on how an EIM works, please see this article.

The Polar Vortex and the Power Grid: What really happened and why the grid will remain reliable without soon-to-retire coal plants

This piece is cross-posted from The Sustainable FERC Project’s blog.

Apr 29, 2014

by John Moore and Allison Clements

In the grip of the “Polar Vortex,” much of the nation experienced an extremely cold winter. The good news is that despite record electricity demand and some of the coldest weather in 20 years, power companies and grid operators kept the lights and heat on. Yet some observers are now claiming that this past winter’s experience casts doubt on whether the power system can cope without the aging coal-fired power plants that are slated to retire over the next couple of years in the face of competitive pressures.

Fortunately, the nation’s major grid operators – the entities charged with maintaining the power grid’s reliability and keeping the lights on – disagree. This fact sheet explains what happened on the grid during the Polar Vortex and clears up misconceptions about what the experience means for both future extreme weather conditions and implementation of the US EPA’s carbon pollution standards.

Q: It’s been reported that many old coal plants that are slated to retire next year were needed during this winter’s extreme cold snaps. For example, American Electric Power (AEP), one of the country’s largest power companies, reported that 89% of its coal plants scheduled for retirement ran during the Polar Vortex. Why did so many old coal plants run this winter?

Old coal plants ran so heavily because an unusual number of other plants were out of service during the Polar Vortex for a variety of exceptional weather-related reasons that are being fixed going forward. Coal plants slated for retirement won’t be needed when these exceptional outage problems are fixed.

Most of the plants that were out of service were unavailable because of operational and mechanical problems like frozen coal stockpiles, boiler tube failures, and faulty ignition. Some plants, for example, failed to start up in the extreme cold after being off line for months. (By the end of January, when we experienced another extreme cold spell, more plants had recovered and were running normally.) Grid operators are now working on corrective measures to avoid these surprises, including requiring plants to test and verify their operational capability during the cold winter months. These tests include a “weekend check” requirement to assure that plants won’t have trouble starting up again after a prolonged break. Grid operators are also evaluating additional financial incentives to reward plant operators that deliver higher performance levels.

Cold weather conditions also revealed problems with natural gas procurement practices, even though sufficient gas supply was available throughout the period. In addition, a glitch in the power and gas markets kept some gas-fired generators from obtaining sufficient fuel on high-demand days – power markets in some regions declare their next-day needs too late in the day for gas markets to respond. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the grid operators responsible for maintaining a reliable electric grid are working to fix this problem before next winter.

RTOs, ISOsQ: So, in light of the stresses during this winter’s Polar Vortex, aren’t these retiring coal plants really needed next year?

Not according to PJM, the nation’s largest grid operator with more than 180,000 megawatts (MW) of power plant capacity throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. Like other regional grid operators, one of PJM’s core responsibilities is to ensure through future planning that sufficient power generation, transmission lines, and other grid resources will be available to maintain reliability and keep the lights on. After a thorough assessment of reliability concerns, PJM has determined that all nine of the soon-to-retire AEP plants in its region (accounting for about 5,400 MW of capacity), plus thousands of megawatts’ worth of other power plants can cease operations without causing any grid reliability problems. Reflecting on the Polar Vortex in April, PJM informed FERC that it will have more than enough power to meet reliability needs after accounting for all planned retirements from companies across the region.

PJM secures necessary power supplies through an annual auction that runs three years into the future. As a result, PJM has determined that its needs through 2017 will be met by existing coal, gas, and nuclear power plants supplemented by nearly 19,000 MW of new power generation, energy efficiency resources, and power imports from neighboring regions of the country, plus over 12,000 MW of “demand response.”[1] The combination of resources will more than offset the approximately 15,000 MW in expected regional coal plant retirements, leaving PJM with about 20 percent more capacity available than needed to meet projected demand.

Q: What about other regions? For example, I’ve heard that the grid operator Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) is worried about insufficient power capacity in the future – is that true?

MISO operates the grid in all or part of 15 states in the Midwest and South. On April 15, MISO reported to FERC that it has more than enough power capacity and demand response resources to meet this summer’s and next winter’s projected demand. Similar to PJM, new plants, energy efficiency investments, and other measures are replacing plants slated for retirement. Looking ahead to winter 2015/2016 and through the end of 2016, MISO and its participating states believe that the region is very close to meeting its power supply requirements. MISO’s analysis is ongoing, and more power may be available from the southern part of MISO (Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana), which has extra capacity, and from imports from the neighboring RTO, the Southwest Power Pool.

Q: How can we be sure the grid will stay reliable in cold weather conditions after upcoming compliance deadlines arrive for new environmental protection standards?

Grid operators are planning to meet their capacity needs (including during hot and cold snaps) taking new environmental rules into account, including for example US EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Acknowledging that a variety of factors – not the least of which is low-cost natural gas – create the potential for additional coal plant retirements and that work needs to be done to address fuel supply issues, none of the grid operators has told FERC or Congress it supports a delay of the MATS standard or of the forthcoming carbon pollution standards. In fact, some of the operators have commented that it does not make economic sense to pour money into retrofitting and retaining older, less reliable plants, because that diverts investments away from newer and more reliable plants.

Q: Can we be sure the coordination issues between natural gas markets and power markets will be fixed?

FERC and the grid operators started addressing these issues before the Polar Vortex began, and they have opened related rulemaking procedures in all relevant regions. Planned changes include better coordination of the daily natural gas and electricity markets to make sure that gas can be delivered when needed, and changes to make it easier for gas-fired plants to run on oil during any gas supply shortages that do occur. This dual-fuel capability helped many plants in New England to operate successfully in January and February (although burning oil instead of gas increases pollution and should be viewed only as a remedy of last resort).

Q: Did wind power help or hurt during the Polar Vortex?

Wind power contributed to the grid’s reliability during this winter’s cold weather. In Texas and the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest, wind energy supplied thousands of megawatts of power during critical times, helping to temper some price spikes and avoid blackouts. The California Independent System Operator, which operates most of California’s grid, told FERC at an early-April meeting on cold weather operations that “renewables helped to get us through the winter.” Likewise, the New England ISO recently told the House Energy & Commerce Committee that renewable energy resources “were an important part of the energy mix” during the past winter. As wind power continues to expand throughout the country, it is becoming more valuable to grid operators during periods of winter peak demand. Throughout the various cold snaps in New York, the nearly 1,400 MW of wind in the NYISO market performed very well, contributing low cost emissions free power during high demand.

Q: How did energy conservation help during the cold weather? Did utilities force people to cut back on home heating during the Polar Vortex?

Energy efficiency and demand response programs[2] helped the grid get through this winter, but no customers were ordered to cut back. Manufacturers, businesses, and other large customers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions responded to demand response financial incentives by voluntarily reducing peak electricity use to the tune of 3,000 MW during the Polar Vortex. As the New England ISO recently reported, demand response resources “performed well and were a valuable part of maintaining reliability during the winter season.” All regions are now evaluating ways to expand the amount of demand response available to meet winter peak demand needs.

Q: Are all these retirements going to cause sticker shock in coming electric bills?

There’s no getting around the fact that we use more power when it’s extra cold. So it’s no surprise that power bills went up during this extreme winter. It is also true that high gas demand led to temporary regional gas price spikes, which translated to higher energy prices for short periods during the extreme cold. Though the peak prices paid by utilities were high, the final cost felt by consumers was tempered by the fact that these high prices were temporary and some retail rate structures shield residential consumers from these costs.  Going forward, FERC and grid operators are now working to reduce gas price spikes through better market rules and other solutions. Also, gas prices are lower overall on an annual basis than in the past.

Q: How can energy efficiency and renewable power help meet peak power needs and keep bills down?

The cold weather events highlight the important role that energy efficiency can play in meeting peak power needs and holding down bills. Grid operators in the Mid-Atlantic (PJM) and Northeast (ISO-NE) have used efficiency in their electricity markets to reduce electricity needs by several thousand megawatts. Unlike coal and natural gas plants, energy efficiency performs well in all weather conditions while costing less than half as much as building new generation. Renewable energy offers zero-cost fuel no matter the weather – and some renewable resources perform at very high levels during the winter months when gas supply is under the most pressure. Expanding these resources is the best way to meet our energy needs – both on an every-day basis and in winter and summer extremes.

You can find more information on how grid operators plan for higher-than-expected electricity demand here.



[1] See PJM, 2016/2017 RPM Base Residual Auction Results, at 1. Demand response programs allow industrial, commercial, and even residential customers to enter contracts to cut their electricity use for short periods in exchange for a bonus payment, if the grid operator determines there is too much demand at a particular time. Demand response programs contributed to grid stability during the Polar Vortex.

[2] See note 1, above.

Letter to WSJ: We Need a Modern Electrical Grid and Must Pay for It

The following is a letter written by former Chairman of FERC and member of Americans for a Clean Energy Grid Jim Hoecker to the Wall Street Journal in response to an article called “The Wind Power Tax.” The letter was published in the WSJ and is cross-posted here.

February 21st, 2013

Your editorial “The Wind Power Tax” (Feb. 11) registers your opposition to modernity and clean-energy development by attacking investment in electric transmission, which is essential to connecting renewables to customers.

You ignore basic facts. Transmission, which is less than 10% of electric bills, is an integrated network that serves multiple societal needs. Major transmission additions are needed to ensure our nation’s electric reliability, replace aging and outdated facilities and reduce the extraordinary costs of congestion on the grid. Only about one-third of the coming grid upgrade must be built to serve remote wind and solar plants. Moreover, federal regulators actually agree with you that the beneficiaries of such new facilities should bear the costs in rates. Those benefits can nevertheless be widespread and powerful, like those of the highway system.

Your jeremiad against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 1000 sides against the market competition among all electricity resources that transmission facilitates, and favors the continued Balkanization of wholesale power markets and an industry model that belongs more to post-World War II America than to the 21st century. The president, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Bipartisan Policy Center aren’t promoting greater investment in our inadequate electric infrastructure for no reason. They, too, are concerned about the pocketbooks of electricity customers, not just tomorrow but 20 and 30 years from now.

James J. Hoecker

Husch Blackwell LLP

Washington

Mr. Hoecker is a former chairman of FERC and is counsel and adviser to the Working Group for Investment in Reliable and Economic Electric Systems.

Electric power lines and transmission towers in Denver metro area

Call the CDC: Anti-Renewable Fever has the Wall Street Journal Opposing Competitive Markets

Anti-Renewable Fever has the Wall Street Journal Opposing Competitive Markets
by Bill White, February 19, 2013

It’s been a difficult flu season, but even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not see this coming: an anti-renewable energy fever so severe that the editors of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) are now opposing policies that would create more competitive electricity markets.

A recent diatribe from the fossil fuel-loving editorial board contained all the familiar symptoms: bellyaching about wind power “subsidies”; blurring of federal and state policies; and delirious attempts to make old arguments new. The WSJ’s editors are now so disoriented that they are denying the benefits of free and competitive electricity markets, and opposing efforts to expand them.

Let’s hope some healing facts will prevent this bug from spreading to healthy media outlets.

Transmission lines are the backbone of competitive electric markets, which save consumers and businesses billions of dollars every year. They’re also the smallest part of any customer’s electricity bill – about 7 percent on average. Generation – the cost of power plants and the fuel they use – accounts for about two thirds of the average bill, or almost ten times as much. Transmission is the only way to move power from the best renewable resources – the windiest and sunniest places – to where that electricity is needed. Delivering that cheap power into competitive electricity markets drives prices down for everyone.

The Journal ignored these basic market realities when they chose to dig into a complaint by Interstate Power & Light (IPL), a traditional monopoly utility, related to transmission costs.

Here are the facts:

• The transmission upgrades being contested by IPL, like all high-voltage transmission lines, are open to any electric power generator connected to the grid: coal, natural gas, wind, hydro, oil, or nuclear.

• Midwestern states are promoting transmission investments to allow local clean resources like wind to compete on an equal footing with outdated, inefficient, and dirty power plants owned by monopoly utilities.

• Wind is winning this increasingly fair fight in the marketplace: 42 percent of new electricity generating capacity installed in the U.S. in 2012 was wind, more than natural gas, and more than coal, nuclear, oil, and hydropower combined.

• Governors and state legislatures – not the Obama Administration – have enacted laws requiring more renewable energy on their electric systems. Thirty-seven states, nineteen of which with Republican Governors, have mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS) or voluntary goals. There is no federal RPS.

• Iowa got 20 percent of its electricity from wind in 2012 – the most of any state in the country – and has the lowest electricity prices of any state in the Midwest.

Transmission lines have broad bipartisan support across the country for good reason. Twelve states from Montana to Ohio recently approved a plan to share the costs of 17 critical transmission lines which will save ratepayers tens of billions of dollars in power costs by allowing cheap wind energy to displace power from inefficient, expensive, and dirty power plants. Michigan ratepayers, who today face the highest electricity prices in the region, will reap savings on their electric bills equivalent to two to three times the cost of these lines. That’s a welcome rebate made possible by a modern and efficient grid, competition, and cheap clean energy – not a stealth tax.

Fair and competitive markets are strong medicine for incumbent utilities pampered for decades on a steady diet of rich monopoly profits. Blocking the infrastructure needed to facilitate those markets – like cutting off the internet or closing roads – is not the path to long term economic success for the nation or lower prices for customers. We’re not sure what the CDC would recommend, but our advice to WSJ editorial board is simple: swallow the bitter pill of free market competition, and call us in the morning.

Thoughts from a Post-Rocky Mountain Clean Energy Transmission Summit World

The Rocky Mountain Clean Energy Transmission Summit is behind us and what an event it was! Headlined by an impressive host of public and private sector leaders, journalists, and other energy and transmission experts, over 100 attendees participated in our Denver summit.

Owing to a remarkable array of perspectives and experiences, conversations covered many issues, offering unique solutions to though problems.

But one message seemed to carry over the rest—a message that moderator and Senior Editor at High Country News wrote about later in his article, Transmission: the missing link in the renewables revolution.

In the critical context of climate change and renewable energy, the argument for transmission is as follows: in order to cut carbon to the level we must by 2050, we need 100,000 MW of renewable power. That necessitates at least 25,000 miles of new high voltage transmission. In other words, we need enough transmission to cross the country, going east-west, over 9 times. But those wires are not easy to put up. In fact regulators, nationally, regionally and locally can make putting up transmission a long and difficult process, despite being easier than it has been in years past as a result of FERC Order 1000.

On top of all that, to connect renewables—which often are located in rural areas—to urban centers you need to put up transmission, transmission must be built to cross those rural areas. Often, that means going through the wilderness. And that has turned many environmentalists, who would otherwise support the infrastructure that is needed for renewable power, against it.

And there are many other groups who have their own issues with new transmission.

So this is the task at hand: to find a way to address complex regulation and the concerns of all those affected by new transmission so that we can find a way to build the infrastructure needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

As one can see, this is exactly why getting stakeholders in the same room as experts who represent many backgrounds—from government to contractors to environmentalists—is critical to progress.

In that vein, we’d like to extend a massive thank you to our sponsors, speakers, moderators, and attendees who made the Denver event a great one.

We hope that you’ll be able to join us at our next event. Stay tuned.

Rocky Mountain Lake Picture

Denver Grid Event to Showcase Challenges & Solutions for Clean Energy in the West

In many ways, the Mountain West is a bellwether for the nation when it comes to renewable energy. Massive regional potential shapes critical energy discussions that could translate into more local energy and a more sustainable future. Yet, there are roadblocks to the widespread acceptance of clean energy, and one of the biggest is a lack of high quality transmission.

Without a modern grid to transport clean energy, often generated far from developed areas, to the urban centers that need it the most, resources like wind and solar will never reach their full potential. We need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to energy infrastructure in order to ensure a high quality energy future for the Mountain West, and for the nation.

That’s why we’re hosting the Rocky Mountain Clean Energy Transmission Summit on Wednesday, January 9th, at the History Colorado Center. Leaders from across the energy spectrum—from businesses to regulatory bodies, from government to media—will convene to discuss these critical issues, shedding light on the problems we face, the solutions at hand, and our energy future. The event will feature such speakers as FERC Commissioner Phil Moeller, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, and former Governor Bill Ritter. There is no cost to register, and breakfast & lunch are on us.

We hope you can join us, click here to learn more or to RSVP. See you there!