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FERC Chair: Stimulus Funds for Grid Upgrades a Drop in Bucket

The money to be allocated by Congress to build U.S. power transmission facilities is just a drop in the bucket of what will be needed to improve reliability of the grid and deliver renewable power to population centers from remote locations, FERC Acting Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said last Thursday.

The stimulus bill will provide "the seed money," Wellinghoff said at Platts' energy podium. "But it really isn't [enough] money to make huge advances in the overall backbone grid that we're talking about to integrate substantial amounts of wind."

The specifics of the House-Senate conference report still were sketchy last week, but it appeared it would at least $11 billion or more in investments for transmission upgrades and smart-grid activities (see related story). Wellinghoff estimated that backbone transmission projects that would move renewable generation from remote sites to population centers would cost more than $200 billion.

"And I think we'll see that money coming from the private sector," based on proposals that already have been submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), he said during his first press briefing since being tapped acting chairman in late January.

Wellinghoff went on to say that he intends to press Capitol Hill to strengthen federal authority to site interstate high-voltage electric transmission lines to carry wind power to metropolitan areas. While FERC has sole authority over the siting of natural gas pipelines, the states -- not FERC -- have jurisdiction over electric transmission facilities.

He said he expects the Commission to be deeply involved in developing a comprehensive energy bill or a series of bills to spur the production of renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy. "We'll become involved in all those matters. FERC has a very critical role to play given the authorities we've been given in the 2005 and 2007 acts and our capabilities with respect to policy and implementation of energy infrastructure."

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