The watchdog that oversees North America’s power grid says the full promise of renewable fuels cannot be harnessed without first building more power lines that can carry this cleaner energy to consumers.
In an annual report, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. of Princeton, N.J., said increasingly popular state government rules requiring a certain percentage of electricity to be from renewable sources will require massive investments in transmission capacity.
”Renewable energy initiatives can’t succeed unless new transmission infrastructure is also built,” the group’s president, Rick Sergel, said in a report scheduled for release Tuesday. ”You can’t have one without the other.”
Even without an increase in the country’s dependence on renewables, the grid watchdog said electricity use is growing twice as fast as the resources used to generate and transmit it, and that power companies will need significantly more transmission capacity to ensure high levels of service reliability.
Although Sergel’s group would not provide a cost estimate for meeting this goal, the utility industry expects to spend $38.1 billion on transmission projects between this year and 2010, compared with $37.8 billion spent since 2000.
However, this accelerated spending is driven mostly by overall energy demand, not renewables, according to a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group that represents about 70 percent of the nation’s electric power industry.
Data from the Energy Department’s forecasting arm, the Energy Information Administration, show that renewables – such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and others – have supplied roughly 9.3 percent of the nation’s power through July of this year. The agency forecasts that by 2030, assuming no major changes in legislation, renewables will make up just 8.6 percent of all U.S. power.
However, legislative changes are being made that could bolster the country’s dependence on renewables.
More than 20 states have renewable energy mandates and the House of Representatives earlier this year passed legislation that would require investor-owned utilities to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources. The White House threatened to veto the House bill and Senate-passed legislation does not include that provision.
Elsewhere, the Bush administration earlier this month used a new federal power for the first time to approve construction of electric lines in some places where state officials have blocked them. Large parts of the Southwest and mid-Atlantic regions were designated ”national interest electric transmission corridors” critical to the nation’s energy grid.
The corridors encompass all or part of 10 states where officials say aging high-voltage lines are incapable of handling growing demand. Some lawmakers and community groups contend the corridors wrongly expand the federal government’s potential use of eminent domain power.
North American Electric Reliability Corp. last year predicted demand for electricity would rise by 19 percent by 2015, but that generation capacity would increase by just 6 percent. The group plans to update those figures later Tuesday.
By Dan Caterinicchia
AP Business Writer
15 October 2007
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