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Another line for an energy bill to cross

By Steven Mufson

Add another line to the slew of lines an energy bill must cross before getting through the Senate: The big transmission line.

Eleven governors from the Northeast have signed a letter to Senate leaders protesting the latest energy bill's plan (PDF) to promote a giant electric power transmission line to link the windy Great Plains to the Midwest population centers. The governors say that the transmission line, expected to eventually cost $160 billion, would be subsidized by citizens in their states.

"In its current form, this legislation would harm regional efforts to promote local renewable energy generation, require our ratepayers to bear an unfair economic burden, unnecessarily usurp states' current authority on resource planning and transmission line certification and siting, and hamper efforts to create clean energy jobs in our states," the governors said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

A blunter assessment came from Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian A. Bowles: "This is a radical Soviet-style approach to transmission planning." Bowles said. "If the market needs those resources, the market will create a way to get those resources."

The controversy centers on the Senate's American Clean Energy Leadership Act, which favors high-voltage "national priority" transmission lines to help unlock renewable wind energy. The wind blows relatively steadily and hard in states west of Chicago, and many lawmakers say a line to the Midwest would bolster wind farm development.

But the governors -- from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Virginia -- fear that their citizens wouldn't get any benefits. Moreover, the Northeast states already have their own tough standards for renewable energy and many utilities in the region have started investing heavily in renewable energy sources.

The governors said that the same money could be used, for example, to build the infrastructure needed to bring wind energy from areas off the Atlantic coast to East Coast cities.

Jared Bernstein, economic adviser to Vice President Biden, defended the transmission plan.

"I sympathize with their concerns and we're going to have to work this out in a way that works for all the stakeholders," he said. But he added, "there are always going to be growing pains when talking about a new large economic endeavor that crosses all kinds of sectors and borders." He said that private companies would have trouble navigating regulatory and right-of-way issues.

"The efficient transmission of clean energy is a critical part of the backbone that the president envisions here," Bernstein said.

Bowles said: "The idea that we need a game-changer isn't right. We need to find the cheapest solution to the greenhouse gas problem, and this is not it."

This post has been updated since it was first published.


Gene Fynes

 |  July 12, 2010; 5:23 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

The reality is that the Northeast would much prefer to get its renewable energy from Canadian hydro power.

The hydro option is much cheaper, more reliable, and easier to deal with.

The midwestern states are trying to enrich midwestern constituents at the expense of Northeast ratepayers.

Posted by: sliskslask | July 12, 2010 8:35 PM
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