A little over a month ago, I posted a comment on Coal Tattoo in response to Ken Ward’s post here. Ken posted about poor old Matt Wald’s whining that loss of coal plants would result in a need for New York to import large amounts of power from elsewhere. Wald dismissed the ability of wind power to meet peak load needs, while completely ignoring what large scale deployment of rooftop solar could do. I addressed that specific point in my comment.
A recently released solar map of New York City found enough room on building rooftops for solar panels to power half the city during hours of peak electricity use. Taking advantage of this solar windfall could allow New Yorkers to save millions on electricity costs and create tens of thousands of jobs.
Instead of joining Wald in supporting the FERC transmission agenda, Farrell goes on to say:
The system has changed. The rapidly falling cost of renewable energy offers a dramatically different electricity future. Millions of Americans could become power generators instead of just consumers, sharing in the economic benefits of clean energy, but only if they can wrest back control of their electric grid.
As it stands, antiquated state and utility rules put a gridlock on the electric system. Just as the old AT&T monopoly limited which phones could connect to their network, utilities make connecting new wind and solar projects arbitrarily difficult. Renewable energy projects also face complex paperwork and long delays to get online, making it harder to get loans and finance projects. The Clean Coalition, a California-based renewable energy group, reports that as many as 97 percent of renewable energy projects seeking a contract and grid connection under California’s renewable energy law fail to do so. Millions of dollars and renewable megawatts are stranded by the rules of the electric system.
The rules are little better at the federal level, where regulators oversee regional electricity grid planning. Under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has routinely awarded bonus incentives for new transmission line development at the expense of local power generation. Although FERC has issued its Rule 890 requiring regional planning authorities to examine cost effective alternatives to new power lines (such as local solar power), FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff says that the Commission largely leaves the policing of this rule to the stakeholder process, one he admits is dominated by incumbent utilities and transmission line developers.
Ultimately, the utilities remain tied to a system that supports their business model, a guaranteed rate of return on new centralized power plants or transmission lines but few rewards for allowing third parties to replace dirty fossil fuel power with clean, local renewable energy.