"I'm really not a ‘Chicken Little' player, but I worry that no one seems to be focusing in on [the threat of another major blackout]," said Michael Morris, Chairman President and Chief Executive of American Electric Power, which runs the nation's largest electricity transmission system.
"The level of excess capacity has shrunk ... to a level barely within the planning toleration of the industry," said Marc Chupka, with the Brattle Group, an energy consultant.
Rick Sergel, President of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the agency that oversees the nation's power grid, said, "We're to the point where we need every possible resource: renewables, demand response and energy efficiency, nuclear, clean coal - you name it, we need it. And we especially need the transmission lines that will bring the power generated by these new resources to consumers."
Contrast this dire assessment by technical experts with what one sees playing out in political arenas across the West:
Activist groups are working to slow or stop the completion of the two main multi-year, stakeholder-based transmission corridor processes that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress approved as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005;
Activist groups are working to slow or stop completion of public lands infrastructure corridors that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress approved in 2005;
Activist groups are suing to block the construction of virtually every single baseload coal-fired power plant, in spite of advanced environmental technologies these plants would deploy;
Activist groups are threatening to begin suing to block the construction of natural gas-fired power plants;
Activist groups continue to block expansion of new baseload hydropower facilities in the West;
Activist groups are gearing up to block construction of any baseload nuclear power plants across the West;
Activist groups are pressuring government leaders to limit access by larger, baseload technologies to the region's high-voltage transmission grid and instead to artificially favor non-baseload, intermittent power facilities that will (at some point) further stress the reliability of the entire Western grid;
Activist groups, and their supporters in Congress, are pushing for a massive expansion of federal wilderness and other restrictive public land designations that would severely limit the ability to plan and implement the large-scale transmission necessary to support the Western grid;
Activist groups, with the support of many in Congress, are seeking to reinstate the Clinton-era roadless rule, which will further limit access to public lands for key energy infrastructure development; and
Activist groups are pushing for additional endangered species designations, which will make siting and construction of both power plants and transmission lines extraordinarily difficult.
Many Governors across the West have been trailblazing leaders in pushing for greater investment in new, high-voltage transmission lines. Yet the Western Governors' Association is focusing its energy on discussing "renewable energy zones" instead of pushing for resource-independent transmission. While such zones are a laudable idea, they don't address the fundamental challenge of keeping the lights on in the West.
Moreover, WGA has placed groups like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society in key leadership positions in their energy infrastructure planning processes. These are among the same groups that often sue to slow or stop virtually every major proposed electric transmission line or baseload power facility.
At the Roundtable, we have long championed the need to stay focused on encouraging rapid and aggressive investments in transmission system upgrades -- upgrades that don't favor any particular resource or politically-connected energy developer, but which are an absolute technical necessity to support the reliability of the grid and allow it to meet the growing demands being placed upon it.
It is critically important that the West re-focus on the fundamental issue here: we have a long way to go to catch up on our backbone electricity infrastructure, and a shrinking window in which to get there. Failure is simply not an option. People lose their lives when the lights go out.
That is why we are convening a regional summit this November called "Keeping the Lights On In The West -- Averting Economic Disaster and Saving Lives." This summit will feature some of the nation's leading thinkers on how we can strengthen our nation's energy grid. It will focus on real solutions -- not overheated rhetoric. Press Release detail ---------------------------------
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