Building a clean energy smart grid: A call to action


Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — April 7, 2009 – Four major hurdles must be cleared to build a national clean energy smart grid in the United States – planning, siting, cost allocation, and ensuring the low-carbon “green” attributes of the electricity, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

The report, “Wired for Progress 2.0: Building a National Clean-Energy Smart Grid,” updates an earlier report published in February, taking account of developments subsequently, and seeks to zero in on the key decisions facing Congress and the Obama administration in the coming weeks as they take up the challenge of rebuilding America’s clean energy infrastructure in earnest.

The report says that federal law should provide for the interconnection-wide planning of transmission networks to move renewable power from remote areas of the country to population centers, while ensuring the efficiency and reliability of the transmission grid. Such planning should be ambitious, but should not hinder or duplicate ongoing planning efforts at utility or RTO level. Moreover, there should be clear roles and responsibilities for undertaking interconnection-wide planning as well as clear mechanisms for funding planning activities.

Federal law also should provide for consolidated federal certification and siting authority to expedite transmission projects identified in the interconnection-wide plans. This federal review, to be conducted by the FERC, should enable state agencies with local expertise to offer conditions relating to detailed “on the ground” routing choices and environmental or other impact mitigation requirements, and should require the FERC to incorporate such state conditions except where it finds that a condition conflicts with the national interest in developing the projects identified in the plan.

Regarding cost allocation federal law should provide a simple mechanism to pay for transmission investments and smart grid transmission upgrades, in order to minimize the costs to individual consumers by allocating costs broadly among all ratepayers. Much like the interstate highway system, a national clean energy smart grid will provide broad system benefits to the entire nation, and no single state, region, or group of rate payers should bear the costs of providing this national benefit.

Finally applying an appropriate greenhouse gas emissions standard, or other green conditions, to new power generators connecting to transmission facilities built with the benefit of these special cost recovery and siting provisions would serve to ensure that expanded grid construction results in clean energy infrastructure development instead of the expansion of traditional high carbon energy resources. Such an emissions related restriction must not interfere with the operational reliability of the grid, and it must accommodate the need for dispatchable resources to balance variable renewable resources.

In addition to these four priorities for any grid policy, comprehensive transmission legislation must also address three other key issues – the incorporation of smart information technology into the grid, improved grid physical security and cyber security, and investments in training and workforce development. These are unlikely to be contentious issues, but should nonetheless be given a prominent place in the legislative debate, the report notes.