Co-op chief calls for US electric transmission reform

By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, June 26 -- The existing system for moving electricity from region to region in the US is "inadequate" and should be reformed, Glen English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, testified Tuesday.

Speaking before the US House Agriculture Committee, Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development & Research, English called for development of a fully interconnected national grid for the transmission of electricity.

"As currently configured, we depend upon the many independent transmission networks, developed for local service and reliability, to support the regional movement of huge blocks of power," English said. "This is interstate commerce on a grand scale," he said. "We are in essence running fleets of tractor trailers over two-lane roads rather than on the interstate highway."

English reminded the subcommittee of the positive effect the federal highway system had on rural communities.

"A national transmission grid would have equally important impact," English said. "By giving rural residents and businesses open access to the nation's electricity infrastructure, you empower them and give them greater control of their destiny."

He said transmission planning should involve the following:

� Electric utilities should work directly with joint planning groups on Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) to determine what upgrades are needed and those organizations should be empowered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to operate the grid, managing all transmission assets.

� The RTOs responsible for reliability must approve new construction and upgrades to the national grid.

� To maximize efficient movement of wholesale power and minimize costs to consumers, government policy should encourage construction of new transmission by reducing the financial risk, not by allowing monopoly profits.

� Transmission owners should agree to receive cost-of-service rates set by FERC, ensuring them reasonable return on their capital.

Congress should develop a plan that allows anyone to build regionally approved transmission lines that enhance the national grid and keeps transmission priced at low cost-of-service rates with a reasonable return on investment, English said.

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