Feds approve electricity reforms expected to bolster renewable power

The federal government on Monday approved a rule that could bolster renewable energy on the electric grid.

The rule, from an independent panel known as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), seeks to address a longstanding wait to get renewable energy hooked up.

Many power projects now are held up in backlogs known as “interconnection queues” where they are waiting for approval to be built and attached to the grid.

This issue and the rule to address it are not exclusive to renewables, but the vast majority of the projects that are waiting for approval are renewable.

The new rule seeks to address this issue by setting a standard for regional power planning. It was approved in a 2-1 vote, with the panel’s two Democrats voting in favor and one Republican voting against it.

The rule will require planning for regional power needs on a basis that the rule describes as “forward-looking.”

This includes identifying needs caused by the anticipated change in the energy mix — as coal declines and renewables grow — and making them consider a 20-year timeline.

It also sets up a system that includes state input for how the cost of power lines should be distributed as part of this planning process.

FERC Chairman Willie Phillips, a Democrat, touted the rule as helping the grid to meet modern challenges like increasing power demand, extreme weather, and the ongoing transition to more climate-friendly power sources.

“We simply will not be able to address these converging challenges and continue to supply the reliable, abundant and affordable power the American people depend on without taking a clear eyed, long term, forward-looking approach to transmission planning,” he said.

“That is why our rule requires transmission planners to plan looking forward on a 20 year time horizon, consider a broad set of reliability and economic benefits, consider using money saving grid enhancing technologies where it makes sense [and] expand states’ pivotal role throughout the planning process, selecting and deciding how to pay for transmission facilities,” he added.

However, Republican opponent Mark Christie criticized the rule’s consideration of factors into power planning like state climate plans, corporate power preferences and which power sources are already waiting in line.

He also argued that the rule was highly partisan, calling it a “pretext to enact a sweeping policy agenda that Congress never passed.”

The rule won praise from Democrats, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer describing it as an alternative to reforms that Congress itself was ultimately unable to implement.

“When it was clear that [Republicans] would stand in the way, we persisted and found another path through FERC,” Schumer told reporters, also throwing cold water on the prospects of a bipartisan deal.

“This is the missing piece to the puzzle,” he added. “Today is a monumental day in the fight against climate change.”

Renewable power advocates likewise celebrated the rule.

“If properly implemented, the rule will also enable the delivery of power from cleaner and more affordable electricity generation that will benefit consumers all across America,” said Ray Long, President and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, a trade group, in a written statement.

Updated at 2:55 pm.

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