The United States needs a bigger, better transmission grid to best exploit solar, wind and other technologies that are reshaping the nation’s energy future, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Phil Moeller said Tuesday.
Moeller, who was in Spokane to address a national hydroenergy conference, also said regulations should be flexible enough to allow the testing of new ways of harnessing water power.
Oregon, he noted, is focusing on tidal power. In Minnesota, there has been some success using a barge to capture energy from the Mississippi River, he said.
FERC relicenses hydropower projects like those operated by Avista Utilities on the Clark Fork and Spokane rivers. Moeller said taking into account the aesthetics of the Spokane Falls was a unique experience for the commission, and gratifying for a Freeman High School graduate who remembers them from Expo ’74.
He said the Northwest is also uniquely advantaged by its transmission grid, and the ability of the Bonneville Power Administration to condemn property if the agency determines there is a need for additional capacity.
Moeller said the siting of new lines, and determining who will pay for them, is much more controversial in the Midwest and Northeast.
He said a smarter U.S. electricity grid will be a two-way street that allows homes and automobiles to create or store power for use by others. The challenge is adopting standards for new technologies being developed by companies like Itron Inc., and assuring the system is secure against cyber attacks, he said.
“These are big policy issues,” said Moeller, who was appointed to the commission in 2006 by President George W. Bush. He is up for re-appointment next year.
The economic stimulus bill set aside $11 billion for development of smart-grid technologies, and $13.9 billion in loans to subsidize renewable-energy projects and transmission.
New commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff stirred some controversy this spring by suggesting conservation and alternative energy resources could make new coal and nuclear plants unnecessary. Moeller said how fast the nation moves away from coal will depend on the outcome of the debate over how best to lower carbon dioxide emissions.
FERC also oversees the development of natural gas pipelines and storage facilities. Moeller predicted that lower prices for the fuel used to heat homes and generate power will remain low for at least the next two years because domestic production from resources like shale has jumped just as more imported gas has become available.
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