Shareholder owned utilities are set to invest more than $1 billion each month in transmission projects in the US in 2013, with a planned total of $15.1 billion this year up from already-impressive $11 billion in total in 2011. Transmission infrastructure shortfalls have been widely forecast for the entire US power sector, which last saw comprehensive buildouts decades ago. Since then, successive attempts to reform power markets have often been blamed for failing to create sufficient incentives for companies to invest in new needed power line upgrades.
A bipartisan group of senators today urged the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department to quickly clarify how they will determine when companies become eligible for an expanded renewable tax credit. As part of January’s “fiscal cliff” deal, Congress agreed to apply the production or investment tax credits to wind, geothermal and other projects that begin construction by the end of this year, a more generous application than the previous requirement that projects be in service by the deadline. But industry officials are awaiting guidance from Treasury and IRS on how the begin-construction requirement will be implemented.
The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday warned that a landmark federal ruling to revamp the country’s transmission planning process could force utilities in the Pacific Northwest to illegally surrender their authority for distributing the costs of new power lines. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) took issue with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 1000, a far-reaching rule the agency approved two years ago to revamp the country’s process for planning, siting and allocating costs for new power lines (Greenwire, July 21, 2011). Wyden told FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff in a letter yesterday that the rule is “akin to trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole” for federally owned entities like the Bonneville Power Administration and Columbia Grid, which don’t traditionally fall under FERC’s jurisdiction.
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow the Northwest to maintain control over its power future, by providing flexibility regarding compliance with FERC’s Order No. 1000 on transmission planning and cost allocations, in a letter sent today. “As you know, the majority of the Northwest power system is composed of utilities that generally are not subject to FERC jurisdiction and that are the creation of, and subject to, state or federal statutes,” Wyden wrote. “This makes the Order No. 1000 process akin to trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole for the Bonneville Power Administration and other governmental utilities.”
Wind industry officials are concerned that a federal program designed to boost offshore wind construction will stymie growth. Speaking at a panel during the annual Offshore Wind Power USA conference last week in Boston, developers discussed how the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s new rules on offshore wind contracts could hurt their businesses. The federal agency is slated to hold its first wind energy auction for two sites in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and one site in Virginia.
The head of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program last week defended the funding practice after House Republicans expressed concern that the agency is preparing to start issuing new loans. DOE Loan Program Office acting Executive Director David Frantz said in a letter to top Republicans on the House Space, Science and Technology Committee on Thursday that the Loan Program Office plays an important role in accelerating the United States’ transition to clean energy technologies. But Frantz also seemed to indicate that the office has a way to go before any decision is made on a potential loan for the Cape Wind project off Massachusetts.
President Obama on Monday named two people to his cabinet who will be charged with making good on his threat to use the powers of the executive branch to tackle climate change and energy policy if Congress does not act quickly. Mr. Obama nominated Gina McCarthy, a tough-talking native of Boston and an experienced clean air regulator, to take charge at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ernest J. Moniz, a physicist and strong advocate of natural gas and nuclear power as cleaner alternatives to coal, to run the Department of Energy.
It looks like smooth sailing ahead for Ernest Moniz. President Obama’s pick to lead the Department of Energy has attracted some grumbling from environmentalists over his previous support for natural gas, nuclear energy and clean coal — but nothing that rises to a level that could derail his confirmation. Senate Republicans say they are withholding judgment until after his confirmation hearings, but GOP aides and lobbyists say there are no immediate red flags that would result in his nomination being held up or filibustered
The cost of offshore wind could compete with conventional and alternative renewable energy sources by 2030 if the United States is willing to invest $18 billion to $52 billion, according to a new report commissioned by offshore wind advocates. The Brattle Group Inc. study found that such an investment would produce “modest” increases in consumers’ monthly energy bills and that investments in the technology would help diversify the country’s energy portfolio.
A key House subcommittee tomorrow will examine how electric utilities are adjusting to shifts away from coal and toward natural gas and intermittent renewable sources in the United States. The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power will invite public and investor-owned utility executives to testify on the role of a “diverse electricity generation portfolio.”