Wellinghoff talks up a smarter energy system

FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff was in Portland Wednesday.

FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff was in Portland Wednesday.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff painted an optimistic future of the nation’s energy grid Wednesday morning, though his presentation laid bare some potential disadvantages faced by renewable energy advocates in the Northwest.

Speaking in Portland at the Future Energy Conference, Wellinghoff described a world where efficient transmissions lines deliver clean energy to population centers, competitive energy markets keep prices low for consumers, and smart phones and electric cars become the assets of a smart grid.

Wellinghoff's organization does not have jurisdiction over transmission lines but he highlighted the need for a more efficient transmission system to transport renewable energy, such as wind power, generated far from population centers to areas where that power is used.

“We do not have transmission where we have the resource,” Wellinghoff said, referring to a National Renewable Energy Lab map showing the majority of wind resources far from population centers.

In the Pacific Northwest, that lack of transmission causes a particular crunch, Wellinghoff said, when spring runoff and high winds create a glut of hydro and wind power.

"We will have so much energy but will not have sufficient transmission lines to transport it" to California or to other large energy markets, Wellinghoff said.

Texas, he pointed out, invested $5 billion in transmission lines to transport power from windy west Texas to the population centers in the eastern part of the state.

Wellinghoff also highlighted another potential energy disadvantage in the Northwest: the absence of a voluntary competitive energy market, which sets real-time, regional prices for power and monitors supply and demand.

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