August 22, 2011
Fershee on The Problems with Piecemeal Federal Transmission
Joshua P. Fershee (North Dakota) has posted Reliably Unreliable: The Problems with Piecemeal Federal Transmission and Grid Reliability Policies, Center for Energy and Environmental Law, University of Connecticut School of Law Policy Paper, July 2011. The abstract:
In the past, electricity was considered a local concern, but over time major portions of the electrical grid have become regional, national, and even international in scope. Electricity regulation has evolved into a complex web of multijurisdictional oversight, and this evolution has created both tensions and opportunities. National legislation and regulation have helped increase reliability, diversify the fuel mix for electricity generation, and create a more open market for electricity. However, national regulation designed to enhance open markets also created opportunities for abuse. In addition, the increasing level of federal oversight has led to conflicts between state and federal entities as the traditional sense of local control over siting and delivery of electricity has been eroded.
A large portion of the current U.S. transmission system is between thirty and fifty years old. As the transmission grid ages, reliability concerns increase; an old grid is simply more likely to fail. Still, new transmission infrastructure is expensive, laborintensive, and complex. Further, there are significant concerns about whether upgraded and expanded transmission lines are the best way to improve safety and reliability.Certainly, with the advent of microgrids and other technologies, transmission lines are not the sole option. A multi-faceted approach that considers local and regional needs, as well as those of the nation as a whole, is necessary.
There are several areas in need of consideration. Recent federal legislation designed to address transmission siting has been well intended, but limited in scope. Further, recent court decisions have all but eliminated the potential effectiveness of the federal siting authority. In addition, cost allocation issues for new energy facilities have emerged as paramount in the relatively new era of competitive markets for power generation, and these issues have been exacerbated by recent energy policy developments. Finally, policies designed to address public safety and environmental concerns have impeded (or run the risk of impeding) broader policy goals, because the policies are often limited in scope and not part of a comprehensive package then ensures necessary synergies to improve grid reliability.
There is no shortage of effort at the state, regional, and federal levels to improve electricity grid reliability and safety. Unfortunately, in many cases, the efforts have been competitive with other energy-related policies (such as climate change initiatives and renewable energy mandates), and jurisdictional conflicts have obstructed, rather than facilitated, many such efforts. It is time for Congress to provide clear authority to someone to make and coordinate changes. A failure to act to preserve and improve the safety and reliability of our electric system would be a costly and avoidable failure. And that is something no one can afford.
Prof. Fershee had a very interesting presentation at SEALS last month too; check out this timely paper.
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