Archive for the ‘Smart Grid’ Category

Seventh Circuit Blows Good News to Renewable Energy Infrastructure


via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

While wind power is providing an increasing amount of electricity across the country, it continues to face a number of structural challenges. First, of course, is the difficulty of dealing with the unpredictable nature of wind generation: when the wind stops blowing the power stops flowing. But new storage mechanisms, like flywheel batteries, are being developed to cope with the vagaries of intermittent wind.

Another hurdle that wind power needs to clear is the sheer distance between where much of it can be produced and where it needs to be consumed. Chicago may be the windy city, but most cities have neither the steady winds nor the space for successful wind generation infrastructure. Enter the Federal Stimulus Bill with its funds for the expansion of high-capacity grid to bring power from remote and windy hinterlands to power-hungry municipalities. Electricity may flow freely over those lines, but nothing related to national energy policy flows smoothly in state houses, Congress, or the Courts. State regulators have been feuding with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over the siting authority for new power lines.

Now the Seventh Circuit has stepped into the fray, affirming FERC’s approval of two regional transmission organizations‘ plan to impose tariffs for the construction of high-voltage power lines, mainly to facilitate transmission from remote wind farms in the Great Plains to urban areas where electric demand is greatest. The plan imposed the greatest costs on urban areas where energy demand is greatest. Michigan and Illinois appealed FERC’s approval, essentially arguing that the costs of the project were disproportionate and challenging the propriety of apportioning the cost of the multi-value projects among utilities on the basis of their total power consumption.

The Court affirmed the Commission’s approval, noting the dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not. Comparing the patchwork of state-regulated energy transmission regimes to the hundreds of independent states composing early 19th century Germany before it was unified into a cohesive nation, the Court emphasized the vital role FERC has played in eliminating local energy transmission monopolies and streamlining the long-distance transmission of electricity while enhancing its reliability.  Writing for the Court, Judge Posner noted that the use of wind power in lieu of power generated by burning fossil fuels reduces both the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and emissions of carbon dioxide, and that its cost keeps falling as technology improves. “No one can know how fast wind power will grow. But the best guess is that it will grow fast and confer substantial benefits on the region served by [the transmission organizations] by replacing more expensive local wind power, and power plants that burn oil or coal, with western wind power.”

The Court’s recognition of the importance of wind power (and the smart grid necessary to deliver it to market) puts a strong wind to the renewable market’s back.

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