Tonko talks up transmission

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2019

TONKO TALKS UP TRANSMISSION: Democrats seeking to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 have a major problem: massively expanding the use of wind and solar power can’t happen without more interstate transmission lines.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s climate change subcommittee, said Thursday that his panel won’t be able to reach its decarbonization goals unless Congress provides better direction on national transmission policy.

“We cannot decarbonize 80% of our electricity mix in 10 years when it takes 10 years to build transmission,” Tonko said at the International Summit on the Electric Transmission Grid, an event at the Canadian Embassy hosted by WIRES, a nonprofit trade group. “We need to be working to advance some necessary policies even when they may be difficult or unpopular.”

What transmission does: Transmission lines are critical to transporting electricity from rural places that have an abundance of wind or solar to consumers in population centers that don’t generate significant renewable electricity. But such lines are can take a decade to approve because they must undergo a diffuse permitting process that is subject to delay because of local opposition from people living near the planned power lines — i.e. NIMBYism.

Congress can help, sort of: Tonko said Congress should direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reform the interregional planning process for transmission to simplify and standardize the siting of lines. FERC recently started reviewing its policies for setting rates and incentives for the construction of transmission lines, to encourage private companies to finance them.

But Tonko said lawmakers and regulators won’t be able to make headway without presidential leadership, comparing the task of building out transmission to the development of the interstate highway system.

“Without an administration that truly bevelves in decarbonization and the climate struggle we don’t have that benefit of the bully pulpit,” Tonko said.