USDOE to FERC—Never mind!

National Interest Electric Transmission Corrid...

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Maybe Energy Secretary Steve Chu felt he had enough battles to fight on Capitol Hill with the Solyndra mess.  Maybe he felt it was impolitic to pick a fight a fight the state public utility commissions.  Maybe he took Senator Bingaman’s advice not to do it to heart.

Whatever the reason, USDOE blinked today and said it would not delegate its transmission planning responsibilities to the Federal Energy Commission after all.  Instead, Chu said US DOE would work more closely with FERC to get the job done.

What job?

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed USDOE to conduct a study of transmission congestion across the country every two years and send a report to Congress.  The law also permits USDOE to designation national interested electric transmission corridors in those parts of the power grid that are seriously congested.  But after two cycles of congestion studies and USDOE designation of two NIETC corridors, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the actions on the grounds that USDOE did not follow the procedural requirement of the National Energy Policy Act (NEPA) to consult with states and produce a detailed environmental impact statement.

Start over said the 9th Circuit.

Too late said USDOE we have another study due in 2012 so we’ll just do that study to conform to the requirements in the court opinion.  DOE hopes to fast track the process by delegating its congestion study process to FERC and running that process simultaneously with the consultation with the states using an open docket at FERC.

The state regulators smelled a trap!

FERC is much better than USDOE in regulatory proceedings so there would unlikely to be any procedural burps this time.  States also objected to the parallel process for fear that set a precedent for FERC to force the states to move at its pace rather than force the Feds to come courting state by state.

I know, it sounds like a soap opera doesn’t it?

And it is in a way.  We need for Federal and State governments to pay more attention to the transmission grid.  All those smart meters are going to look pretty dumb when we still can’t move much power east and west, can’t get around congestion hot spots, can’t get all the new renewable energy we’re building to markets where it is needed, and can’t get past the NIMBY problems brought on by the very same environmental groups who protest transmission lines but want more spending on renewable energy that—DUH—we can’t get to market!

So for 2012 USDOE and FERC and the States will restart the process all over again at the same place they were in 2005 when the Energy Policy Act started it all.  Only now we have millions of smart metered installed and thousands of megawatts of wind and solar energy unable to get to the best markets and the same state and Federal regulators playing the same old game of musical chairs—-but the music stopped long ago.