Federal energy policy will impact wind farm development in Minnesota


Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and has introduced a bill that would amend the 2005 Energy Policy Act to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) more authority to site transmission lines in transmission corridors of national interest. Yesterday he met with Obama to discuss the bill, which is of huge importance to Minnesota and other states with renewable energy resources like the Dakotas and Bingaman’s home state, New Mexico.

Up to now, courts have ruled that the Energy Policy Act does not allow FERC to site lines and approve construction permits if states deny transmission permits for legitimate reasons. In other words, FERC only has the authority to step in if states take no action. Bingaman’s bill will allow FERC to override state decisions to deny transmission permits if the line is in the “national interest.”

This bill can be viewed in multiple ways. Bingman’s bill will open the door for interstate transmission lines, which will carry wind power from states like Minnesota and North Dakota and deliver it to demand centers like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Transmission congestion, or the lack of transmission capacity, is the primary reason planned wind projects have not been able to move forward. The development of the wind industry depends on transmission lines that will allow for installation of thousands of wind turbines in Minnesota and the Dakotas. This will undoubtedly have a net positive jobs impact in Minnesota, although higher energy prices will produce offsets in other parts of the country.

Another way to view the bill is from a land use perspective. The bill will take away from local and state control over how land is used and diminishes state’s rights by asserting a “national interest.”

This bill also puts environmentalists in a conundrum. We want clean power, but there are plenty of people in the movement who reject the idea of corporations getting rich off of government subsidies by building giant wind farms and transmitting the power halfway across the United States. On the other hand, the dispersed generation people are not being realistic about the transmission needs of wind power. Still others are concerned about the nationwide economic impact of higher energy prices. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how this issue plays out during and after midterm elections.