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U.S. energy regulator focuses on access to renewable power to reduce climate impact

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said on Thursday he is focused on enabling the construction of long-distance power transmission lines to help bring more renewable power onto the grid.

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Richard Glick, FERC’s chairman, told the virtually-held CERAWeek conference that new power lines would help bring electricity generated at solar and wind farms in the countryside to populated cities.

“If we are going to really meet our targets, whether they’re set by the federal government or states ... we’re going to need to access the great remotely located renewable resources we have,” said Glick.

He did not mention specific projects, but one effort is the SOO Green HVDC Link. It hopes to install high voltage direct current underground cable along existing rail corridors to deliver 2.1 gigawatts of power from Iowa wind and solar projects to Chicago. The project needs FERC to update how grid operators connect new transmission projects, among other things.

FERC for the most part does not have authority over the siting of transmission lines, which sometimes acts an impediment over transmission development, Glick said. But the panel does have authority over cost allocation and transmission planning.

“Those are the particular areas I think we’re going to be focused on in the near future to figure out,” ways to incentivize planning to build long distance lines, he said.

Biden has pledged to put the country on a path to decarbonize the grid by 2035. Glick, a Democrat, and the rest of the five-member FERC could help lay the groundwork for that especially after June, when his party is expected to regain a 3-2 majority.

In recent years FERC passed a rule, which Glick dissented from, that removed the review of greenhouse gas emissions of new natural gas pipelines from environmental assessments. While Glick has been criticized by some as being against all gas pipelines, “that simply isn’t true,” he said.

The DC Circuit, a federal court that reviews FERC decisions, ruled twice in the last four years that FERC had to review the emissions impact of the pipelines before going forward. That has led to delays and extra costs.

“I think it’s in the interest of pipeline developers to work with us as well to develop a good methodology to assess climate change impacts,” Glick said.

Last week, the White House restored a key climate measure calculating the cost of climate change in federal permitting called the social cost of carbon. The price estimate will be about $50 a ton of carbon dioxide, and a working group will work to develop a new estimate.

Glick said the social cost of carbon could be one way to measure the climate impact of natural gas pipelines.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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