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Murkowski Proposes Summer Reliability Fixes to DOE

Murkowski Proposes Summer Reliability Fixes to DOE

Rather than "blaming just about everyone and everything" for the reliability problems on the electric transmission grid, Senate Energy Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) last week urged Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to take "immediate and meaningful action" to address the situation in the short term, while Congress tries to work out a longer term solution.

Although "it is too late to instantly reverse the cumulative effects of seven years of bad energy policy" by the Clinton administration, "it is not too late to take some meaningful action to protect consumers this summer and to begin to provide for the long term," Murkowski, an avowed foe of the administration's energy policy, said in a letter to Richardson on July 10.

For starters, he called on Richardson to coordinate the actions of other federal agencies - particularly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior - "to ensure that they do not further damage electric reliability." Moreover, Murkowski proposed that the Department of Energy (DOE) send a "directed rulemaking" to FERC giving the agency the authority to immediately respond to reliability problems. Under the DOE Organization Act, "you have the statutory authority to direct FERC to take action. You should use it."

Under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), Murkowski reminded DOE it has the authority to order electric reliability councils and "any federal agency" to "examine and report" back to it on reliability issues. Also under PURPA, "you have authority.....to develop and recommend electric reliability standards to the industry 'to adequately and reliably serve the needs of electric consumers.' Have you done so? If not, you should."

Rather than pinning the reliability problems on Congress for its failure to pass restructuring legislation yet, "it would be more helpful to consumers and our economy for you to lead the formation of an administration-wide task force to develop a coordinated and effective strategy to ensure that the generation and transmission we need to power our growing economy will be built," Murkowski wrote to Richardson.

Ironically, the senator failed to heed his own advice about "blaming" others for the problems with electric generation supply and the transmission grid. He cited a laundry list of actions by the administration that have "harmed" the power market, including FERC's delay in "making crucial determinations on the rate-of-return on transmission for more than three years;" the delay in the construction of "new generation, even extremely clean natural gas-fired generation," because of the "stringent requirements" of the Clean Air Act; and the failure of DOE and FERC to penalize utilities for taking unauthorized power from the grid.

It "is these actions and the other energy policy failures of this administrations over the past seven years that have led us to where we are this summer," Murkowski told Richardson. The "six steps you announced this spring to address this summer's reliability problems will do nothing meaningful to ensure that the lights will stay on." As a result, he said "we have already seen the electric power system stretched to the limit and beyond on hot days " in the Northeast, the Northwest and in California.

Susan Parker

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