Home News New rules for grid reform could boost wind and solar power generation

New rules for grid reform could boost wind and solar power generation

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Federal regulators Monday approved sweeping changes Supporters hope the move will spur construction of thousands of miles of new high-voltage power lines and make it easier to add more wind and solar power.

The new rules from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate electricity transmission, are the most significant attempt in years to upgrade and expand the country’s fragile power grid.experts warn not enough High-voltage power lines being built today put the country at greater risk of blackouts caused by extreme weather, while also making it more difficult to shift to renewable energy and cope with growing electricity demand.

The commission said a big reason for the slow pace of grid expansion is that operators do little long-term planning.

The country’s Three major power grids Regulated by utility companies and regional grid operators, it focuses on ensuring the reliability of power to homes and businesses. When building new transmission lines, grid operators tend to react after wind farm developers require connections to existing networks or identify reliability issues.

this new federal rulesThe two-year plan requires grid operators across the country to determine needs for the next 20 years, taking into account factors such as changes in the energy mix, the growing number of states requiring wind and solar power, and the risks of wind and solar generation. extreme weather.

Grid planners must evaluate the benefits of new transmission lines, such as whether they will lower electricity costs or reduce the risk of outages, and develop ways to allocate the costs of those lines among customers and businesses.

“We have to plan long-term for the national grid,” said Willie Phillips, a Democrat who chairs the Energy Committee. “Our nation’s aging power grid is being tested in ways we have never seen before. Without significant action now, we will not be able to keep operations running in the face of growing demand, extreme weather and new technologies.”

The committee approved the rule in a 2-1 vote, with two Democratic commissioners in support and the lone Republican, Mark Christie, opposed. Christie said the rule would allow states that want more renewable energy to unfairly pass on the costs of necessary grid upgrades to their neighbors.

“This rule does absolutely nothing to protect consumers,” Mr. Christie said. He said the move was “intended to facilitate a massive transfer of wealth from consumers to for-profit special interests, particularly wind and solar developers.”

The rule could take years to take effect, and the commission could face legal challenges from states worried about rising costs.

Nationwide, energy companies have proposed more than 11,000 wind, solar and battery projects, but many people are in trouble Because the grid doesn’t have enough capacity to accommodate them. What’s more, individual developers currently need to pay for grid upgrades to accommodate their projects, a process that is piecemeal and slow.

Some critics say it’s like asking trucking companies to pay for extra lanes on highways that all motorists end up using. A better approach, they say, would be to plan widespread upgrades in advance, with the costs shared among a wide range of energy suppliers and users.

But the question of who pays for these grid expansions has sparked fierce debate.

Officials in states that are less enthusiastic about wind and solar, such as Kentucky or West Virginia, say they may be forced to pay for billions of dollars in new transmission lines designed to help states like New Jersey or Illinois achieve their goals. Renewable energy targets.

To alleviate these concerns, the commission developed guidelines on how to spread the costs of new transmission projects. Before any lines are planned, utilities and grid operators should work with states to develop a formula that allocates costs to customers based on the potential benefits of new lines.

There is some precedent for this. The grid responsible for handling power in 15 Midwestern states, known as MISO, recently approved $10.3 billion worth of new transmission lines, in part because many of those states have ambitious renewable energy goals that require more transmission. MISO estimated route Will create total benefits of up to US$69 billion, including lowering fuel costs and reducing power outages. Grid operators would then be able to spread costs even among states that don’t have renewable energy policies but would share in the rewards.

“It was very difficult and not everyone got what they wanted, but we all agreed to sit in a room and figure it out,” said Carrie Zahler, a former Illinois state regulator and now a member of the American Clean Energy Association said Carrie Zalewski, a renewable energy trade group.

Christie said the final rule does not give states enough power to object to how costs are shared. But Alison Clements, another Democrat on the committee, said giving each state veto power is “a recipe for inaction.”

The rule also requires utilities and grid operators to consider new technologies, such as advanced conductors, that may cost more upfront but could improve grid efficiency and provide long-term benefits Can carry twice the current Same as traditional line.

Environmental groups and renewable energy companies applauded the new rules.

“This is a landmark day in the fight against climate change,” said Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who had urged the committee to pass a strong grid planning rule.

Last year, Schumer and other Democrats warned that efforts to combat climate change could fail without an overhaul of the national grid. Power plants that burn coal and natural gas are major sources of pollution that contribute to global warming.While the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 invests hundreds of billions in clean alternative energy sources like wind and solar, recent analysis found that half of the climate benefits of the law could be lost if the U.S. fails to build new transmission lines faster.

It remains to be seen how effective the new rules will be, as it will depend on how grid operators implement them. 2011 Commission attempts to encourage transmission planning shaken to a great extentThat’s partly because many utilities oppose new long-distance lines that could weaken their monopolies, said Ari Pesco, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard Law School. Because of the fragmented nature of the nation’s power grid, federal regulators are limited in what they can do to force operators to comply.

“I suspect this rule will be helpful in parts of the country that already have more transmission momentum,” such as the Northeast, Mr. Pesco said. “But where the big utilities are resisting more transmission, I don’t know if FERC can do that much.”

New rules impact grid planning Within 12 major regions across the country, but there is no need to plan transmissions to connect these different areas to each other, which some experts believe is a greater need. The rule also would not affect Texas’ main power grid, which is not affected by federal regulations because it does not cross state lines.

The rule also does not address the logistical and political challenges of building new long-distance power lines. It can take a decade or more for developers to find a project in multiple jurisdictions, obtain permits from different federal and state agencies, and resolve lawsuits over landscape damage or ecosystem damage.

Biden administration Recently finalized a plan Aims to cut federal permitting time for certain large transmission lines in half. But speeding things up further may require action from Congress, where lawmakers have been trying to agree on new transmission policies.

However, the Federal Energy Commission did: outline some situations It could override state government opposition to a small section of new power lines.

At issue is the Department of Energy’s ten “Transmission Corridors of National Interest.” Has been initially determined Across the country—where the new line would be particularly beneficial. If state regulators block or delay projects in these corridors, the federal commission can step in to approve the projects.

But some experts question how often that happens because the commission has historically preferred to work with states.

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