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Wind energy experts: regulations slow development

09/03/2011

Clearing up the regulatory hurdles that are slowing development of electricity transmission lines would provide a significant boost to U.S. wind power development, industry officials said Wednesday. The American Wind Energy Association is holding a two-day workshop in Omaha focused on the challenges of transmitting power to places that need it. The biggest regulatory barriers have to do with who pays for high-voltage transmission lines and who decides where the lines will go.

Clearing up the regulatory hurdles that are slowing development of electricity transmission lines would provide a significant boost to U.S. wind power development, industry officials said Wednesday.


The American Wind Energy Association is holding a two-day workshop in Omaha focused on the challenges of transmitting power to places that need it. The biggest regulatory barriers have to do with who pays for high-voltage transmission lines and who decides where the lines will go.


Wind power may play a significant role in helping the nation reduce its dependency on coal, natural gas and nuclear power. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address last month that he wants 80 percent of the nation's electricity to come from clean sources by 2035.


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Cheryl LaFleur, one of five commissioners on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told a group of about 250 people at the conference that energy transmission development is a priority. The commission is in the middle of reviewing a rule that will help resolve questions about how the lines are paid for.


"I believe strongly that we as a nation have grossly underinvested in electric transmission," LaFleur said.

LaFleur said the U.S. needs a mix of several different energy sources to meet its needs, and she hopes the new rules FERC is considering will help encourage the development of a better transmission network for that.


But FERC is only one piece of the regulatory puzzle. High-voltage transmission lines often cross several states, which makes it complicated to get approval for the location of the lines.


"Solving the transmission equation can make the difference between a viable wind energy project and one that stays on the drawing board," said Denise Bode, the trade group's chief executive officer.


The White House said Obama's new goal would double the percentage of electricity that comes from clean energy sources, but in addition to renewable power sources such as wind and solar, the new clean energy standard would include nuclear, natural gas and some coal power.


Promoters of the broader clean energy standard hope it can win the backing of Republicans who don't support the narrower renewable electricity standard. But it's not clear yet that the proposal will win over many Republicans.


A White House fact sheet said clean coal, which would be produced by an experimental technology not yet available commercially, and "efficient natural gas" would be given only partial credits toward the goal.


Obama's proposal comes after two years of unsuccessfully pushing cap-and-trade legislation, which supporters concede has no chance of getting through Congress now that the GOP controls the House.


Under the cap-and-trade system — aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide blamed for global warming — the government would place a limit on pollution and allow companies to buy and sell pollution permits under that ceiling. Companies that reduce their emissions could then cheaply sell their unused credits to those that cannot afford the costs of emission controls.


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