Monday, October 26, 2009

More US Energy Policy Insanity

The insanity that surrounds the nation's energy policy can often be distilled to two words: NIMBY and money. Those are the words that kill power generating facilities, transmission lines, and an improved energy infrastructure. It has all but killed the nuclear power industry in the country at a time when increased demand and desire to reduce emissions from conventionally powered facilities is high priority.

Yet, we now get reports that proposals for the US government to oversee siting of high power transmission lines is generating a backlash from states that want more control over such plans because they might not directly benefit from the high power lines. That includes New Jersey, where wind power facilities are planned and the high power transmission lines might end up being cheaper than the offshore power generating facilities.
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.

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.

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.
This goes to the heart of improving the nation's energy infrastructure and the need to provide new and additional power transmission capabilities is needed to reduce the likelihood of blackouts and provide an ongoing reliable power supply for the nation's insatiable need for power.

In fact, PSE&G's head made the following claim:
You could end up with transmission lines that are economically unjustified and environmentally self-defeating.
Really? How about a massive expenditure on an offshore wind power project that would be far cheaper if done onshore? How about the environmental costs of a wind power project that necessarily has to be spread over a wide geographic area to provide the power comparable to an existing conventionally powered (coal, gas, or even nuclear) facility? No, this comes down to money, and PSE&G is concerned about competition from out-of-state wind power and other power sources that would be cheaper than in-state sources.

The nation needs improved energy generation from clean sources, whether it is nuclear or renewable power - hydro, wind, or solar. It also needs new and expanded power transmission capabilities, and states looking to protect their own interests continues to thwart the improved energy infrastructure.

One of the reasons new power transmission lines are needed is because the construction of onshore (and offshore) wind power projects require linking up to the existing grid, and the sites often chosen around the nation for such projects are not near existing high power transmission lines. The lack of a high power transmission line played a role in killing a wind power project in Texas by T. Boone Pickens. The land-use needs for wind power necessitate the need for additional high power transmission lines, in addition to the needs to upgrade and reinforce the existing grid. When the transmission lines aren't built, they kill the wind power projects.

Moreover, the transmission line policy actually pits Gov. Corzine against the Obama Administration, which has sought to improve the nation's energy infrastructure through the latest regulatory efforts.

Note too that the New Jersey politicians, including Gov. Corzine, are opposed to power transmission lines that would improve the transmission of power generated by renewables despite their claimed preference for such renewable energy production.

The fact is that if these power lines are built, they would increase the competition and drive down the costs - and it would provide additional backup for power production regionally and nationwide. It would also allow PSE&G to consider shutting down their most polluting energy production facilities and to concentrate on cleaner technologies at their remaining facilities.

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