POWER GRID OVERWHELMED: Feds Approve New Rules Aimed at Boosting Construction

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Sweeping changes to the way long-distance power lines are planned and built were approved by federal regulators Monday, as they try to revitalize an overwhelmed electricity grid that is ill equipped to handle soaring demand.

The reforms, approved 2-1 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with its lone Republican dissenting, come as fraying transmission infrastructure is undermining the economy in some regions and leaving large swaths of the country experiencing routine power shortages. Called the power grid, this network of wires and transfer stations also is not keeping pace with growth in solar and wind power, experts say.

“Our grid is at a make-or-break moment,” FERC Chair Willie Phillips said following the vote. “It is being tested in ways we have never seen before.” Phillips said new demand for power from surging data center electricity use, the on-shoring of clean tech industrial manufacturing and the transition away from fossil fuels is pushing the country’s electricity system to the brink.

At the same time, Phillips said, the construction of badly needed new transmission infrastructure that would shore up the power grid has slowed to a crawl, setting the stage for more blackouts and economically damaging energy shortages across the nation.

The goal of the federal rule changes approved Monday is to encourage construction of new high-voltage lines that enable developers to bring more energy online quickly, particularly clean energy.

The rules require states and utilities to collaborate on 20-year plans that consider demand forecasts and the most equitable ways to pay for the projects.

While the vote signals federal government determination to break the logjam on electricity infrastructure investment, it also underscores how limited its tools are.

Regulators still have minimal authority to push projects through when they get stymied by financial, environmental and property rights disputes, which often stretch across state lines. Congress granted the commission new power to greenlight permits for projects stalled at the state level, but it is limited.

The commission unanimously approved a measure Monday that allows it to exercise those new powers if projects stall in 10 national transmission corridors to be identified by the Energy Department. The department’s draft plan for the corridors include some 3,500 miles of power lines across the country.

But tens of thousands of miles of new lines need to be built by 2035 to keep up with demand and meet climate goals, according to the Biden administration.

The amount of new transmission lines installed in the United States has dropped sharply since 2013, when 4,000 miles were added. Now, the nation struggles to bring online even 1,000 new miles a year.

A group of scientists led by Princeton University professor Jesse Jenkins warned in a report that by 2030 the United States risks losing out on 80 percent of the potential emission reductions from President Biden’s signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, if the pace of transmission construction does not pick up dramatically.

Environmental and consumer advocacy organizations applauded FERC’s actions.

“We urgently need every grid operator to determine where and what transmission lines to build,” said a statement from Cullen Howe, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The power system is changing, and this rule ensures the nation’s power grid will advance with clarity and consistency, rather than a haphazard approach.”

Efforts to invest in the grid are repeatedly stymied by interstate disputes between lawmakers and regulators with clashing priorities. A push in one state to build out transmission networks for clean energy to help meet climate goals can be undermined by a state through which power lines for the project must run, as regulators there worry local ratepayers will unfairly get burdened with covering the bill.

The new rules force regulators and utilities across state lines to align their long-term goals and draft infrastructure investment blueprints, rather than taking a Band-Aid, crisis-driven approach.

Some state regulators and power company executives warn the new federal requirements are intrusive. They contend they are designed to promote clean energy at the expense of ratepayer pocketbooks. Their argument was embraced at Monday’s hearing by FERC Commissioner Mark Christie, a Republican, who delivered a blistering critique of the reforms before voting against them.

“This rule is not fair to consumers,” Christie said. “This rule is a pretext to enact a sweeping policy agenda that Congress never passed.” He accused the Democrats on the commission of rushing the process to inoculate the rule against repeal if their party loses the White House in the upcoming election.

“We all know why this is being rushed through,” Christie said, alluding to the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to scrap new federal rules before they take effect.

(c) Washington Post


1 COMMENT

  1. Free energy to all, no matter where in the world you live upon the return of President Trump iy”H.

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