Solving the Electricity Transmission Gridlock By Tom Gray

While Congress continues to struggle with the problem of fashioning forward-looking energy and climate legislation, two much less visible organizations have recently quietly laid a foundation for resolving one of the most intractable obstacles to widespread use of America’s renewable energy resources–the question of who pays for new transmission lines.

The first step was taken by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the regional body that oversees the electric transmission system in the windy southern Plains states (Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and parts of Texas and Arkansas).

SPP earlier this year approved a "highway-byway" approach to paying for new lines. The critical part of this approach is payment for the "highways"–the cost of major interstate power lines to carry electricity from windy areas to cities will be broadly spread among all of those who benefit.

Next was the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which recently approved SPP’s proposal. FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff’s comments during this action are of particular note:

Quote : Thank you for this presentation and your thoughtful work in drafting this order for the Commission’s consideration.

"SPP management and its Members have developed a proactive approach to planning for the reliability and economic needs of the SPP transmission system. It is also a flexible approach that allows SPP and its stakeholders to regularly assess whether that process is achieving its objectives and to adjust as the needs of the system change over time. They deserve praise for crafting a process that will allow their region to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the electricity industry. SPP has been proactive in its assessment of its transmission planning needs, and other regions may want to follow its lead so that the transmission infrastructure that is needed to maintain reliability, reduce congestion, and meet policy objectives is built. I am pleased to vote to approve SPP’s proposal.

Let’s hope this marks the beginning of the end for a true "gridlock" that has largely stalled the construction of new transmission lines for the past 30 years, resulting in massive power blackouts and threatening to exert a continuing drag on America’s economy.

By Tom Gray,