In what has been called the most significant act of reform in years for power distribution in the United States, FERC Order No. 1000 will help solar and wind projects overcome a significant hurdle that has held up the development of more than 25 GW of solar projects and an uncounted number of wind farms nationwide for lack of transmission.
At the end of August, the final day for a rehearing of the controversial rule passed. Despite heated opposition from large non-renewable energy providers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruling, initiated by pro-renewable FERC chief Jon Wellinghof, appointed by President Obama in 2009, is now law.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have renewable energy standards calling for steady increases in electricity from renewables. But the absence of any requirement for equivalent amounts of transmission has created a bottleneck in implementation. Established large coal and natural gas providers have long held “right of first refusal” on building new transmission lines.
Regardless of state mandates to add more renewable energy, without the transmission, typically from uninhabited deserts or windy plains devoid of transmission, renewable energy has been stymied. Individual utilities, such as PG&E in California may sign more than enough contracts with solar or wind providers to meet the mandates, but until there is transmission accompanying the new energy sources, the utility has not met its RES.
With the new rule, regional planners considering transmission growth, must now, for the first time, take into account state renewable mandates, and include transmission planning that makes sense to achieve the targets.
The Solar Energy Industries Association told CSP Today that these reforms with new guidelines for transmission planning and cost allocation requirements will help the industry overcome a significant hurdle that has impeded the development of more than 25 GW of projects on hold in the utility-scale solar power pipeline.
This is a very different FERC than we have been used to. Under Wellinghoff, several significant victories have been achieved for clean energy this year, in incentives at the utility-scale. (Equal Pay for Negawatts and Megawatts, Under New FERC, and FERC Wants Smaller, Faster Distributed Storage, to Speed Renewables)
The traditional energy industry is fighting back, and is now lobbying the Senate to write legislation to reverse the ruling.
Image: Obviously, this compares residential-scale solar to coal, but the graphic is accurate scaled up in comparing the size of the utility-scale solar required to supply the equivalent output in coal as well: utility-scale solar just takes more space and displaces a proportionally larger pile of coal over its lifetime. On a larger scale, this is the choice being made by FERC.
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