Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hearing On Transmission For Renewable Electricity Resources

Jun 17: The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), held a hearing to examine the challenges and regional solutions to developing transmission lines for renewable electricity resources. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Senator Harry Reid (D-NV); United States Department of Energy; T. Boone Pickens, BP Capital; Western Governors' Association; Wyoming Infrastructure Authority; South Dakota Public Utilities Commission; Bonneville Power Administration; Great River Energy; and the American Wind Energy Association. Senator Bingaman and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) both delivered opening statements.

Senator Bingaman said, "The Federal government has been trying to encourage the development of renewable electricity since at least the late 1970s with the passage of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. We also have extended tax credits to renewables, and funded research and development. States have passed aggressive renewable portfolio requirements, or have, in some other manner, set goals and targets. In spite of all of this, renewable generation is still only about 3 percent of our national electricity supply.

"Recent studies and reports have indicated that we can do better than this. The Department of Energy recently released a report that indicating that 20 percent of our electricity could come from wind alone. The Western Governors Association has adopted a goal of 30,000 MW of clean energy resources by 2015. Project 25X’25 has accepted as a target that 25 percent of all energy should come from renewables by 2025. All of these studies and reports agree that we should extend the renewable tax credits. Several of them support a national renewable electricity standard. All of them also agree, however, that these actions are not enough -- and that one of the most important barriers to accomplishing these goals is the inadequacy of the existing transmission system.

". . . renewables do present unique problems. Most wind, solar and geothermal resources are located far from the areas where the electricity is needed. The upper Plains States are rich with potential for wind generation, but these states are sparsely populated and far from large metropolitan or industrial centers. The same is true of the solar potential in the Southwest and the geothermal resources in the mountain West. Development of transmission lines to carry such resources to load centers has to be done across many states and through many jurisdictions and siting the lines is a serious problem. . . Cost allocation is also a real difficulty. Customers in the states where the plants are built and where the transmission is essentially just passing through do not want to shoulder the primary burden of paying for the lines that are supplying somebody else."

In his statement, Senator Domenici said, "that many see [this issue] as the single largest impediment to the development of renewable energy -- the lack of available transmission capacity to bring alternative energy resources online. . . With passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress sought to tackle the difficult issue of siting needed transmission lines. We directed DOE to study the country’s transmission constraints and designate transmission corridors in areas of severe congestion. Importantly, we provided FERC with backstop siting authority to counter NIMBY opposition to interstate lines. These are significant federal authorities aimed at ensuring adequate transmission and yet, since its enactment and before they have even been fully implemented, these provisions has been attacked by numerous interest groups, some members of Congress, and even one of the federal Commissioners. All of our witnesses here today have wrestled with the thorny transmission issues -- from planning and siting, to cost-allocation, to the integration of intermittent resources.

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony and a webcast (
click here). Access Senator Bingaman's opening statement (click here). Access Senator Domenici's opening statement (click here). [*Energy]