New Rules to Overhaul Electric Grids Could Boost Wind and Solar Power

Federal regulators on Monday approved sweeping changes to the way America’s power grids are planned and financed, in a move that supporters hope could spur the construction of thousands of miles of new high-voltage power lines and make it easier to addition of wind and solar energy.

The new rule from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate electricity transmission, is the most significant attempt in years to modernize and expand the nation’s creaking power grid. Experts have warned that there are not enough high-voltage power lines built today, putting the country at greater risk of power outages due to extreme weather while making it more difficult to switching to renewable energy sources and managing the growing demand for electricity.

One of the main reasons for slow network expansion is that operators rarely plan for the long term, the commission said.

The country’s three main power grids are overseen by a patchwork of regional utilities and grid operators that focus primarily on reliable electricity for homes and businesses. When it comes to building new transmission lines, grid managers tend to be reactive, reacting when a wind farm developer asks to connect to the existing grid or when a reliability issue is spotted.

The new federal rule, two years in the making, requires grid operators across the country to identify their needs in 20 years, taking into account factors such as changes in the energy mix, the growing number of states that have need for wind and solar energy. and the risks of extreme weather conditions.

Grid planners should evaluate the benefits of new transmission lines, such as whether they would reduce electricity costs or the risk of power outages, and develop methods to allocate the costs of these lines between customers and businesses.

“We need to plan our nation’s grid for the long term,” said Willie Phillips, a Democrat who chairs the Energy Committee. “Our nation’s aging grid is being tested in ways we’ve never seen before. Without meaningful action now, we won’t be able to keep the lights on in the face of growing demand, extreme weather and new technologies.

The commission approved the rule in a 2-1 vote, with the two Democratic commissioners in favor and the lone Republican, Mark Christie, opposed. Mr. 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 completely fails to protect consumers,” Mr. Christie said. He said this was “aimed at facilitating a massive transfer of wealth from consumers to for-profit special interests, particularly wind and solar developers.”

It could take years for the rule to take effect, and the commission could face legal challenges from states concerned about higher costs.

Nationwide, energy companies have proposed more than 11,000 wind, solar and battery projects, but many are in limbo because there isn’t enough capacity on the grid to accommodate them. Additionally, individual developers are currently required to pay for network upgrades to accommodate their projects in a slow and piecemeal process.

Some critics say this is like asking a trucking company to pay for an extra lane on a highway that all motorists will ultimately use. A better approach, they say, would be to plan in advance for broad upgrades whose costs are shared by a wide range of energy suppliers and users.

But the question of who pays for these network expansions has sparked furious debate.

Officials in states less enthusiastic about wind and solar power, like Kentucky and West Virginia, say they could be forced to foot the bill for new multibillion-dollar transmission lines intended to helping states like New Jersey and Illinois achieve their renewable energy ambitions.

To allay these concerns, the commission established guidelines for how to allocate the costs of new transportation projects. Before lines are planned, utilities and grid operators are supposed to work with states on a formula for allocating costs among customers, based on the potential benefits of new lines.

There is precedent for this. The grid that manages electricity in 15 Midwestern states, known as MISO, recently approved $10.3 billion for new power lines, in part because many of its states have ambitious energy goals. renewable energies which require more transport. MISO estimated the lines would generate up to $69 billion in total benefits, including reduced fuel costs and fewer power outages. The grid manager was then able to spread the costs even among states that did not have a renewable energy policy, but would share the rewards.

“It’s very difficult, and not everyone got what they wanted, but we all agreed we were going to sit in a room and figure this out,” said Carrie Zalewski, a former state regulator. State of Illinois which is now part of the American Clean Power Association. a renewable energy trading group.

Mr. Christie said the final rule did not give states enough power to object to how costs would be shared. But Allison Clements, the other Democrat on the commission, said giving each state a veto was “a recipe for inaction.”

The rule would also force utilities and grid operators to consider new technologies that might cost more upfront but could make grids more efficient and provide long-term benefits, such as advanced conductors that could carry twice as much current than traditional lines.

Environmental groups and renewable energy companies welcomed the new rules.

“This is a monumental day in the fight against climate change,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, who had urged the commission to adopt a strict grid planning rule.

Over the past year, Mr. Schumer and other Democrats have warned that efforts to combat climate change could fail if the nation’s power grids are not overhauled. Power plants that burn coal and gas are a major source of pollution that is dangerously warming the planet. While the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 dedicated hundreds of billions of dollars to cleaner alternatives like wind and solar power, a recent analysis found that half of the climate benefits of this law could be lost if the United States cannot build new transmissions more quickly. pace.

It remains to be seen how effective this new rule will be, as it will depend on how network operators implement it. A 2011 attempt by the commission to encourage transmission planning largely failed, in part because many utilities were opposed to new long-distance lines that could undermine their monopolies, said Ari Peskoe, director of Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard Law School. Due to the decentralized nature of national grids, there is little federal regulators can do to force operators to comply.

“I suspect this rule will be helpful in areas of the country where there is already momentum for increased transportation development,” such as in the Northeast, Mr. Peskoe said. “But in places where big utilities resist more transmission, I don’t know if FERC can do much.”

The new rule affects network planning in 12 major regions across the country, but it would not require transportation planning to connect those different regions to each other, which some experts say is an even greater need. The rule also would not affect Texas’ main grid, which is insulated from federal regulations because it does not cross state lines.

The rule also fails to address the logistical and political challenges of building new long-distance power lines. It can take a decade or more for developers to locate a project in numerous jurisdictions, receive permits from a patchwork of different federal and state agencies, and resolve lawsuits over spoiled views or damage to ecosystems.

The Biden administration recently finalized a program to cut the federal permitting timeline in half for some major transportation lines. But speeding things up further could require action from Congress, where lawmakers have struggled to agree on new transmission policies.

In a separate rule issued Monday, however, the Federal Energy Commission outlined some situations in which it could override state objections to a small subset of new power lines.

These are a set of ten “electricity transmission corridors of national interest” that the Department of Energy has tentatively identified across the country – places where new lines would be particularly beneficial. If state regulators blocked or delayed a project in these corridors, the federal commission could step in to approve it.

But some experts question how often that would happen, since the commission has always preferred to collaborate with states.

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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