November 10, 2010

Ian Bowles zaps ‘Soviet’ grid

By Jay Fitzgerald, Boston Herald,

Gov. Deval Patrick’s energy and environment czar is warning of “Soviet-style” central planning of the nation’s electric grid that could drive up power costs for Massachusetts ratepayers.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is developing a plan to modernize the nation’s transmission system to accommodate increased use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and to allocate anticipated costs.

A similar plan in Congress earlier this year drew harsh criticism from 11 East Coast governors, including Patrick, who expressed concern that their ratepayers would be subsidizing transmission upgrades for others across the nation. Ian Bowles, Patrick’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, called the congressional proposal a “Soviet-style approach to planning.”

But Marc Spitzer, a FERC commissioner, said there’s strong support on the panel to open debate about how to modernize the nation’s electric grid and how to pay for it.

“This won’t cost ratepayers in Massachusetts or elsewhere a dime,” he said.

Yesterday, Bowles backed down from his criticism a bit as FERC prepares its plan to upgrade the national electric grid.

But Bowles said he’s still leery of any FERC plan, saying it’s a “slippery slope” toward a more centralized national electric system that could harm Bay State ratepayers and the state’s efforts to promote renewable fuels.

“We’re concerned,” said Bowles, adding there has “certainly been Soviet-type thinking” surrounding the entire concept.

Ironically, Bowles has been criticized for using heavy-handed government tactics to aggressively push for pet energy projects.

“We’re building a lot of transmission lines here in New England, so I’m not sure we need to be paying for (grid upgrades) for others,” said Bowles yesterday.

While Bowles’ criticism seems to put the governor at odds with pal President Obama’s plans, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff was tapped by Obama to lead the regulatory panel, but was originally appointed by former President George W. Bush.

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