FERC fights for the green-grid superhighway—even if Congress won’t.
Bruce W. Radford is publisher of Public Utilities Fortnightly.
The Senate’s deadlock over carbon cap-and-trade legislation has not deterred FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff from an agenda bent on promoting renewable energy and fighting climate change.
Last fall, even as Congress dithered, FERC launched a landmark initiative that likely will lead to sweeping new rules for expanding the nation’s electric transmission grid, grounded on Wellinghoff’s belief in wind, solar, and green power resources.
The scope is breathtaking. The effort covers not only the process of transmission planning (e.g., local, regional, and super-regional), but also the heretofore sacrosanct precinct of cost sharing for new projects. Past columns have documented how planners and system operators have set utility against utility, state against state, and region against region through the unequal parsing of grid expansion costs (see “T Party Revolt,” October 2009.) But now FERC proposes to take grid planning and cost allocation to an entirely new level, attempting for the first time to account for the overall societal benefits that many ascribe to renewable energy, such as reductions in greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, cuts in oil imports, and greater national security.