Power struggle over towers
Nov 24 , 2009 -
Record, The Bergen County, N.J.
global warming with a "green superhighway" of high- voltage power lines -- that
large groups of consumers then have to pay for -- could be bad news for New Jersey,
say state leaders, environmental activists and utility companies.
Corzine joined governors from nine other Atlantic coast states in opposing the
idea. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., voted against a major energy bill because of
And the heads of the state's Sierra Club chapter and its
biggest electric company, who are fighting in court over other power plant issues,
are united against it.
They all say the plan, intended to
promote renewable energy from wind, solar and geothermal sources, could derail
offshore wind energy projects already under way in the East, and open new markets
for coal, one of the most carbon-dioxide intensive fuels.
proposal is envisioned as a way to tap the wind whipping down the plains and the
sun baking the desert to power major population centers on the East and West coasts.
No transmission-line routes have been laid out yet, and it is not clear how Congress
will handle the issue.
Backers, including a former Nevada
regulator now running the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., say the nation's energy future requires giving the
federal government new power over siting and cost-sharing.
Achilles' heel of renewable energy is transmission," FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff
told a forum sponsored by Energy Daily in Washington last month. "Many of the
clean resources are located far from consumers."
control siting issues, and it is understandable states might oppose high-voltage
towers across their land if the states are not benefiting directly. But advocates
for giving FERC the power to site power lines, even if states object, say that
reducing the billions of dollars spent on oil from countries that are not friendly
to the United States, and shifting to energy that produces less carbon, provide
national benefits that justify federal authority and regional cost-sharing.
energy policy is a liability to our economic security and our national security,"
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, told the same
Countering Wellinghoff and Salazar at the forum was
Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent company
of Public Service Electric and Gas Co.
"Suggesting we should
get our renewables from remote areas regardless of transmission costs is like
saying if only we had access to free refrigerated freight trains, we should get
all our ice cubes from the North Pole," Izzo said. "Who pays to build the trains
or lay the tracks? And wouldn't it be cheaper to make the ice locally?"
also said that long-distance lines invariably would cross regions where power
is produced from coal, and it is unlikely that once lines are built those power
plants would be barred from using them.
"Thus you could end
up with transmission lines that are economically unjustified and environmentally
self-defeating," he said. PSEG is partnering with Deepwater Wind on a 350-megawatt
offshore wind project 12 miles southeast of Atlantic City.
that project and others off New Jersey, Delaware and Rhode Island may not go forward
if government backing for Midwest or Western power makes it cheaper than offshore
wind, said Jim Lanard, managing director of Deepwater.
is a turf war between regions," he said. "New Jersey would go from exporting its
money to oil-exporting nations to exporting its money to power-exporting states."
Corzine and other coastal governors wrote to congressional
leaders in May arguing that if the federal government is going to get involved
at all in transmission issues, they should be addressed regionally.
ratepayer-funded revenue guarantee for land-based wind and other generation resources
in the Great Plains would have significant, negative consequences for our region,"
the governors said.
A spokeswoman for Wellinghoff, Mary O'Driscoll,
said long- distance transmission lines should not be built if local resources
could meet demand and address carbon-reduction goals reliably and cheaply.
she said there still needs to be a structure to address interstate transmission
issues that serve national goals.
Jobs and local economics
are also being cited by critics of the transmission-line proposal. Lanard said
companies looking to exploit offshore wind are hoping to build enough of an industry
in the Atlantic Ocean that equipment manufacturers would locate in the region.
Right now, the PSEG/Deepwater project is buying equipment
for the test tower it plans to build next spring from the Gulf Coast, where companies
make equipment for oil and gas drilling platforms. The state is subsidizing $4
million of the test tower project, which will cost between $5 million and $7 million.
Jeff Tittel, state director of the Sierra Club, said the transmission
issue is being used by the Obama administration to sell a cap on carbon emissions
to members of Congress from Midwestern states. While Tittel supports capping carbon,
as the others from New Jersey do, he's worried the power lines would open new
markets for coal.
"When you build these big lines, the question
is will it be renewable or will it be coal they're carrying? Coal's cheaper, but
it will undermine renewable energy," he said.
to ensure states could block transmission lines when the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee took up a major energy bill this year.
his proposed amendments were defeated, Menendez opposed the final bill and said
he would seek further changes in the full Senate. That has not yet happened, but
the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee begins hearings this week
on a broad climate- change bill that may be merged with the energy bill Menendez
opposed. Salazar and Wellinghoff are among those scheduled to testify Tuesday,
while Izzo is on the witness list for Wednesday.
What it means
Jersey leaders who support global warming laws are against new proposed power
lines to carry wind and solar power from sparsely populated plains and deserts
to big cities.
committee hearings begin this week.
What they're saying:
could end up with transmission lines that are economically unjustified and environmentally
PSEG Chairman Ralph Izzo
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