Governors urge DOE to tap little-known provision to foster wind

Source: By Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A bipartisan coalition of governors today called on the Energy Department to use its authority to support much-needed power lines and open wind energy markets, although at least one governor who belongs to the group hasn’t signed off.

The Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition today sent Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz a letter urging him to use for the first time his authority under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to partner with power marketing administrations to develop, build, operate and own new power lines that meet certain criteria. The coalition includes governors from across the nation, including the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the arid Southwest, as well as Hawaii.

Under the little-known provision, the Energy secretary could act through a federal marketing administration — of which there are four in the nation — to build and operate new transmission projects within the administration’s footprint if the project meets certain criteria, including reducing congestion or meeting electricity demand.

While the language mainly provides a funding mechanism that allows a third-party to pay for the process, the provision has also stirred controversy because it allows the government to advance a power line that faces state objections (Greenwire, Dec. 19, 2013).

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), the coalition’s chairman, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), its vice chairman — the two signatories to the letter — warned that the inadequacy of the nation’s existing high-voltage transmission system threatens to weaken state economic development and restricts the ability of wind energy to compete in energy markets across the nation.

“We respectfully request your utilization of Section 1222(b) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to promote high-capacity and high-voltage transmission development, and your continued support for the important electricity and transmission work undertaken by U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability,” the governors wrote.

But a spokesman for the Democratic governor of Arkansas, Mike Beebe, said he hasn’t signed off on the letter. “While Arkansas is a member of the coalition, we are not a signee on this letter; in fact, this is the first we’ve seen of it,” Matt DeCample, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email. “We’ve not been involved in the national discussion of this particular issue.”

Arkansas is front and center in discussions over transmission and renewable energy, as America’s windiest states lie in its Central Plains. The development of new transmission infrastructure to carry wind energy across the nation has become a rallying point for the renewables industry.

Houston-based Clean Line Energy responded four years ago to DOE’s request for proposals to utilize the agency’s authority under Section 1222 to build a $2 billion, 700-mile transmission line project, called the Plains & Eastern Clean Line. The project would funnel 3,500 megawatts of the Oklahoma Panhandle’s wind wealth to energy buyers in Arkansas, Tennessee and population centers in other Southeastern states.

If approved, the power line would harness DOE’s authority under the Southwest Power Administration (SWPA), the regional power marketing administration, to acquire missing transmission rights of way in Arkansas. The proposed power line was denied public utility status in 2011 (Climatewire, June 13).

But Jimmy Glotfelty, founder of Clean Line Energy Partners and a former senior electricity adviser for President George W. Bush, said the company would continue to work with — and provide benefits to — states like Arkansas, adding that Clean Line has been doing environmental work for three years now on the proposed power line. Glotfelty added that DOE cannot enter into a partnership or agreement until they complete such a look.

“It’s not black and white, it’s not that you can go around the state, you have to work with the states and local officials through the development, construction and operation process,” he said.

Aside from DOE, the governors’ coalition is also throwing its support behind the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s landmark Order 1000 rule, one of the agency’s largest and most complex rulemakings, which survived legal attacks in a federal appeals court last month (Greenwire, Oct. 20).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last month rejected a request from the Large Public Power Council for the court to reconsider its August ruling that upheld Order 1000 in its entirety. Order 1000 lays out a new policy and legal framework that calls for regional coordination in grid planning and for abolishing an incumbent utility’s “right of first refusal” to build a new project, among other reforms.

Daugaard in a statement called Order 1000 the “primary policy vehicle available to update our nation’s outdated electrical grid.”

Daugaard, Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) met with FERC in February to discuss ways of supporting new transmission.