(Photo by rosmary via Creative Commons)
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Jeff St. John
The country’s rural electric cooperatives have received a small share of the Department of Energy’s $4.5 billion in smart grid stimulus grants.
But their chief federal benefactor hasn’t been the DOE, but rather the USDA, which has handed out billions of dollars in loans for energy and communications projects over the past few years — including small, but significant, portions aimed at the smart grid.
Last week, USDA launched its latest round of loans from its Rural Utilities Service Program, totaling $1.8 billion for projects across 25 states. While the lion’s share is aimed at building and upgrading transmission and distribution lines, building new generation and other core grid investments, about $45 million will go toward smart grid technology.
As a red-state Republican who also acknowledges global warming, Gary Hanson needs to tread carefully in conversations about the environment.
Hanson, a former Sioux Falls mayor who chairs the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, shared his views on climate change, distributed generation and other energy-related topics last Thursday at an event hosted by the Sierra Club’s eastern South Dakota chapter.
“I try to look for safe islands; islands where I can get people to agree to work together,” Hanson said.
For him, that’s meant a focus on energy independence, planetary stewardship, and a “responsible” roll-out of renewable energy that doesn’t add costs for utilities or their customers.
A coal plant near Springfield, Illinois. FERC says the Midwest’s reliance on coal makes its electrical grid vulnerable to tougher pollution rules. (Photo by straightedge217 via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Hannah Northey
Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warned House members Thursday that energy reserves in the Midwest could be pinched the hardest when new U.S. EPA clean air rules take effect in 2016.
FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller (R) told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power that the Midwest’s grid operator anticipates a shortfall in its power reserves in 2016 when EPA’s landmark mercury and air toxics standards take effect.
“Think about rolling blackouts the summer before a presidential election, it kind of shifts the national discussion,” Moeller said.
He said issues could also crop up in other parts of the country, including areas in the mid-Atlantic and New England. But the Midwest — a smaller system that relies heavily on coal, has transmission constraints and is undergoing a large number of retrofits — could be hit harder.
Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat who President Obama tapped last month to lead the agency, agreed the rule could affect the Midwest.
“Over most of the country, MATS compliance is well under way,” LaFleur said. “The most significant issue will be in the Midwest.”
A wind farm under construction in Germany in 2009. (Photo by Windwärts Energie via Creative Commons)
Chicago energy experts who spent a week in Germany and Brussels in mid-November on a fact-finding expedition came back with a complicated take on Germany’s famous Energiewende, the sweeping transition to clean and renewable energy.
They were highly impressed with the fact that unlike the U.S., Germany has a cohesive national energy policy, and that it has meant rapid adoption of solar and wind power, including through substantial governmental support and subsidies.
But they also learned how Germany has in some ways been a victim of its own success, with the swift transition to solar and wind and the closure of nuclear plants raising reliability issues.
“They’ve been successful beyond their wildest dreams – there’s so much solar and wind coming on to their grid that it’s actually destabilizing their grid,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which convened the delegation along with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – a political organization close to the center-right Christian Democratic Party. “It’s exciting, but there is too much (renewable power) coming on at times, and sometimes not enough.”
Solar panels being installed at Wayne National Forest facilities in Ohio in 2009. (Photo by Wayne National Forest via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Peter Behr
The eastern Great Lakes and mid-Atlantic region could rely on wind and solar power for as much as 30 percent of their generation capacity — without threatening electricity delivery — with net benefits even after additional transmission lines and reserve resources are added, according to a preliminary study released by the PJM Interconnection, the region’s grid operator.
The study, by GE Energy Consulting, investigates several scenarios for additions of wind and solar generation to the PJM grid, which extends from New Jersey to to Ohio and parts of Michigan, Indiana and northern Illinois. It calculates the amount of new transmission lines needed to deliver the renewable energy and the required backup generation to support the variable wind and solar power.
A transmission line crosses a field near Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by David DeHetre via Creative Commons)
For the large metal tower constructed on his land, one farmer will receive annual payments for as long as it stands.
His neighbor, however, whose land is divided by a string of vertical structures, gets a more modest one-time payment.
As a historic transmission build-out continues across the region, landowners are increasingly questioning the fairness of rewarding wind project participants more than those who allow transmission lines to cut across their property.
Frank James, staff director for Dakota Rural Action, says it’s an increasingly common complaint from South Dakota farmers.
“You know what they’re getting paid for those turbines, and it’s pretty good,” James said. “You’re going to get a transmission line that serves those wind turbines and you don’t feel like you’re getting paid as [well].”
Allison Clements is a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
As the Senate considers confirming Ron Binz as the next chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), rhetoric is heating up and putting the independent regulatory agency in a place it is uncharacteristically but increasingly finding itself these days – the spotlight.
In recent weeks, a few special interests have attempted to paint Binz, and FERC itself, as ploys in furthering the president’s “anti-coal” agenda. But the anti-coal charge doesn’t work when you think through the (still relatively unknown) role that FERC actually plays in energy regulation.
What is it FERC does, exactly?
FERC has several different jobs, none of which allow for favoring particular types of power generation over others. In addition to its authority over gas pipeline permitting and hydroelectric facility licensing, the Commission is charged with ensuring transmission grid reliability, protecting consumers from unreasonable costs, and creating a level playing field for all types of resources that provide transmission or generation services. Richard Caperton at Center for American Progress recently described some of these roles in a great blog post.
(Image via Tres Amigas, LLC)
The U.S. grid is actually three grids: power generated in the east can’t really move to the west; power generated in the west can’t really move to the east. And Texas – in true Texas fashion – is an electrical state unto itself.
This Balkanized power grid, however, appears to be on the verge of breaking open, with the result that at least some electrons will be free to flow as the market dictates. And that could have particularly positive implications for generators of renewable power.
“This is a ground-breaking project,” said Russ Stidolph, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Tres Amigas, a company that aims to unite the three grids. The project, which has the same name, will be constructed near Clovis, New Mexico, where the interconnections come close to converging.
The developers are seeking $550 million to fund the first phase, which Stidolph said the company expects to begin building by the end of December. The first phase would allow 750 megawatts to move between the eastern and western grids (by way of comparison, the average coal-fired power plant in the U.S. can generate about 550 megawatts). The Tres Amigas developers envision a second phase that would establish a connection between the eastern grid and the Texas grid, allowing for the movement of 1,500 megawatts.
(Photo by Andrew Malone via Creative Commons)
On Aug. 14, 2003, hot power lines sagged onto overgrown trees in Ohio and triggered the largest blackout in North American history, affecting 50 million people from Michigan to Massachusetts.
One of the main causes, according to the joint U.S.-Canada task force that investigated: the failure of FirstEnergy Corp. to adequately manage tree growth in its transmission right-of-way.
The incident — along with million-dollar-a-day fines subsequently passed by Congress — raised the stakes for tree trimming near transmission lines, and many utilities decided not to take chances.
Utility arborists began observing a trend toward clear cutting and indiscriminate spraying that left nothing in its path, often hurting important habitat and blighting previously green spaces.
A group of utility and conservation groups is now trying to convince the industry to give up the bulldozer approach for a more holistic one known as “integrated vegetation management.”
In northern Wisconsin, rugged, forested terrain can make it difficult to access downed power lines. (Photo by Jimmy Emerson via Creative Commons)
In parts of northern Wisconsin, it doesn’t take a Hurricane Sandy to knock out power for days.
Garden-variety severe thunderstorms routinely leave thousands of customers without electricity in the state’s densely forested northeast corner.
Utility officials hope burying more than 1,000 miles of power lines might bring some relief to customers who are sick of resetting flashing alarm clocks.
Wisconsin Public Services (WPS) received permission from regulators this month to move ahead with the $222 million System Modernization Reliability Project, which some say is too much to spend to improve service for a small number of customers.
The utility, though, says something had to be done to improve the area’s service reliability, which is six times worse than the national average.
“We get complaints from customers who are rightfully pretty frustrated,” WPS spokesman Kerry Spees said.